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Comments on Is it time to dump POTS ? April 5, 2017

KEN KIRSCHENBAUM, ESQ
ALARM - SECURITY INDUSTRY LEGAL EMAIL NEWSLETTER / THE ALARM EXCHANGE
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Comments on Is it time to dump POTS ?
April 5, 2017
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Comments on is it time to dump POTS from March 30, 2017 article - thanks to everyone who took the time to share their opinion and knowledge !!
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Ken
   I have found that since the advent of "digital voice" telephone communications channels have deteriorated to the point where I do not trust them even with the new NFPA 72,  6 hour check in standard.  They worked fine for years. Then as the systems "improved" more and more alarm communications failures were reported by customers.
   I have had systems operating on a cable phone system for years only to have the system now fail to dial out because of " upgrades" to the system..  It seems as part of the upgrade they no longer recognize pulse signals.  Their reply is have your customer upgrade their system.
   Well they did.  The alarm is now on IP GSM, they dumped their house phone for CELLULAR ONLY and they dumped cable for satellite.  Now their cable provider is spending more money to market them back then it would have cost to keep them.  It is now to the point that we no longer mention or market POTS or dial up of any kind for new systems.
Feeling like a Monday on Thursday,
Joel FBN
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Ken,
   This is a response to a question you asked in regards to POTS phone lines and recommending other communication formats (3/29/17).
   Does everyone or anyone agree that it's time to recommend something other than POTS as the best alternative when there are alternatives?
   In the recent past, I have been experiencing some of the same/similar issues with phone lines as your other subscribers. What I have been able to basically determine that since the actual “POTS” telephone lines are no longer being installed and being replaced with digital phone lines the fire alarm control panels are having issues with reliable communication over the digital lines (I believe its due to the voltages of the digital lines).
   To combat this I have been recommending that on all new fire alarm systems my company installs we have a secondary line of a different technology (cellular/network/radio). This takes the worry about if the DACT is able to communicate out of the equation. If the DACT has an issue with the digital phone line it can use the secondary communication as the alternative. Also in NFPA 72 2013 the requirements for communication of a DACT changed some and 2 phone lines are no longer the “accepted” methods for communication. You can use 1 phone line but the other communication path must be of a different technology. Where this really does not affect the existing systems communicating over standard “POTS” lines it will eventually come into play as AT&T converts their whole infrastructure over to digital. Yes its true “POTS” phone lines are going away, I have experienced it first hand.
   So to answer the question you asked, I agree that it is time to start recommending “alternative communication” especially for new systems. The existing systems will have to be dealt with on a case by case basis as the phone lines are slowly converted to digital.
Douglas Emery
Fire Alarm Designer
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Ken
   We have taken a stand a few years back that no new systems will go on phone lines as there are no pots lines in New England anymore . Cellular is the most reliable and internet comes second for reliably.
   Customers save when they can cancel one of the two phone lines from their provider.
Best regards,
Bruce Riel
Security & Fire Alarm Consultant
Manchester, N H
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Ken
   POTS lines are still the most reliable path on the market. Problem is: When the signal leaves the DACT it is most likely to end up on VOIP somewhere along the way to the receiver. Some of the VIOP lines are compressed more than others and the signal gets distorted. Beware, even cellular signals end up on VOIP along the way if you are using 3/1 or 4/2, and sometimes other formats. ESA and CSAA are working with the FCC to address these problems. I feel that older technology is being replaced by newer technology that is less reliable. The carriers should have done more testing with the older systems but, that water under the bridge. I think we need some minimum standards on VIOP compression.     Even with new rules it still will be hard to enforce since the routing is hard for us to prove. This is a complex subject with many variables.
John Knox
Knox Integrated Systems
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Ken
   In the good old days – just a few years ago – dialup telephone lines did provide reliable alarm signaling capability!  Not so today!  In the past the dialtone (and phone line power) came directly from a telephone company central office where there was lots of batteries and generators and standby power.  Today, the dialtone most often comes from a street-corner box that is powered by commercial power and six to eight hours of standby battery – no generator.  Daily test reports on dialers are no longer adequate and should be more like six hours!  
    But many people have “cut the cord” from the real telephone company and moved to alternative services such as the cable tv phone, voice over internet protocol using their internet connection, or fibre based lines with an optical network terminal at the premises.  The cable companies do a good job of providing standby power for their premises equipment (usually about six-eight hours) and may provide reliable standby power for their equipment in the field.  And maybe not.  A recent power failure in my town brought my cable phone and internet connection down in less than an hour.
    But in addition to the significant reduction in standby power there is another major problem.  When VoIP technology is employed our conventional dialers may not function reliably, or may simply not communicate at all.  Major problems with VoIP include the type of codec (converter from analog voice to data and back again) and packet loss.  In many cases we use DTMF (touch tone) to send alarm information and the wrong type of codec can affect the tone on-tone off times so the receiver does not accept the signals.  If we use the SIA reporting format packet loss will cause bad data to be received and thus the premise alarm panel will not receive a kiss-off.
   In many cases “line seizure” is bypassed when the telephone service provider is changed.
   Standby power is a major issue with VoIP and customer computer network equipment like modems, routers and switches.
   All of the above problems are compounded by the customer’s ability to change providers any time they want and they will never tell the alarm guy!  “It worked this morning but may not work this evening.”
   Yes, it is time to move away from POTS and come into the 21st century.  The most reliable communications today is a combination of internet and cellular that provides “active” (a Canadian term) or “Supervised” communications so that the Signal Receiving Centre (or Central Station) knows of a communication problem within three or five minutes.
   I apologize for being long-winded but the communication problems our industry faces are complicated issues and I have attempted to keep it simple.
Dave Currie, President
Damar Security Systems
Chair CAN/ULC-S561 W/G – Chairman Canadian Fire Alarm Monitoring Standard  
Chair ULC S300A Subcommittee – Intrusion Signal Receiving Centre Standards
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Ken,
    In response to the UDACT communications problems Jeff with Acme Fire Protection Inc was talking about, I had some information that may be useful. Here in Cincinnati I noticed about four or so years ago that several of my clients were having communications failures at different times on POTS lines. I would run a service call out only to find everything was working fine and could not duplicate the problem. As these comm fail problems would  pop, up they would clear within a day on fire alarm panels performing their 24 hour test. I asked around to some local companies and found out that out local phone company was switching some of their POTS lines to VOIP at their exchange house that served the customers in question. Although it appeared that you had a POTS line at the premise, at the phone exchange house that served that area, it was being switched over to VOIP. As time went on and on a rare occasion I could witness (listen to) a fire panel dialing out and getting the handshake from the central station receiver but, the contact ID transmission failed. The rapid sequence of touch tones that make up the contact ID transmission does not always make it through a VOIP line and when its appears as garbled at the receiver end; the panel does not get the kiss off tone which makes the panel dial out again.     This data garbling or distortion happens in the conversion from analog to digital and then digital back to analog again. I seen it fail two to three times in a row of dialing attempts. Sometimes its hard to catch and hear. I always recommend cellular in this case and tell the customer that VOIP lines are a 50/50 chance it might work of not unless they move to a cellar communicator. Unless there is a specific problem or design issue with the UDACT Jeff has this might be the cause.    
    Good Luck!
Ron Baumann
ProAlert Security Systems, LLC
Cincinnati, Ohio
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Ken,
We stopped using POTS completely some years ago.  And, our legacy accounts on POTS are a problem until we convert them to cell (or IP).  The classic phone companies all use VoIP, so why do we pretend these signals are being sent on copper, more than from the building to the CO? 

Dave Meurer
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Ken
    POTS lines are not always POTS lines.  POTS stands for Plain Old Telephone Service, and today's lines are anything but.  VOIP has taken over and when you hear stories of communicators kissing off with no alarm received at the monitorinq center, or, alarms received at the monitorinq center that did not originate from the account it came in on, it's a very good bet that VOIP is the issue.  We've seen it time and time again, mostly from the phone providers changing how calls are routed.  
    We've instructed our provider to use AT&T routing once we found out that there is such a thing as being able to choose.  Prior to that we found out that the provider could program their equipment to route the call to whomever is cheaper at whatever time of day.  And we were lucky to be able to get a spreadsheet of all our calls and figure out who the carrier was on a misdirected signals.
    Having said that, this "fixed" our problems for now, but the future of pots lines is questionable.  My opinion is that the faster it goes away, the better off the alarm industry will be.
Dan Zeloof
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Ken,
    The problems your readers described is not isolated.  Most of the country is experiencing the problems with what they believe are POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) lines.
The real issue is that very few, if any of those systems actually are connected to a true POTS line.  Most of the traditional phone providers have changed their switching networks
from “Circuit Switched Telephony” to “Packet Switched Telephony” which means that the copper line that everyone thinks is a POTS, goes to a green or beige box in the neighborhood,
a Remote Service Unit (small telco building remote slave switch) or all the way back to the Telco exchange where it connects to a card that converts it to a Digital phone line.
So while it looks like a POTS it probably is not a POTS.  Of course of the customer is served by Cable Phone Service, they had a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) line when it was installed.
    Dialers were designed to use the Voice Grade “Circuit Switched Telephone Network” and need a direct audio path to work properly. 
When the audio is converted to data and sent out in several individual Data Packets the timing may not be precise enough for the central station receiver to decode them properly.
    Or a packet may have an error and get dropped, leaving a gap in the middle of the Dialer’s transmission.
    The best fix available today seems to be asking the provider to configure the VOIP or Digital line as a FAX line.  This means the carrier will select a Codec (Coder/decoder) protocol that
does not use any fancy compression or features to conserve bandwidth and is more likely to code and decode the FAX and/or Dialer data accurately.  THIS IS A BAND AID ONLY!!!
    The Fax line will help but we still have an analog dialer trying to work on a digital line and it will likely never work as well as it did on the old POTS line it was originally connected to.
    There are several converters or “Dialer Capture Devices” that create a fake POTS line and a central station receiver on a circuit board that is attached to a 3G or 4G radio or wired IP Network adapter.
These Capture devices grab the dialer signal inside the control panel, receive them on the central station receiver chip and then after it decodes the message from Dialerese back to an
account number, event code zone # etc. it puts those numbers into a single IP Packet and sends it over 3G or 4G or other radio, copper, coax or fiber via the internet or intranet to the central station
in a few tenths of a second where it is acknowledged and processed by the central station.
    Most of the Big Guys or Mass Market companies do not install equipment with dialers today.  I do not know why many of the independent dealers continue to purchase and install dialers where wired
or wireless IP is available.  Maybe it is lack of knowledge of the technology available to us or just fear of something they don’t have experience with.  Dialers as we know them are going away because the
lines they connect to are going away if not already gone in much of the country.  As customers learn about the many features of VOIP phone service, and install more VOIP Phones that plug into an Ethernet
jack instead of a 2 wire phone line there will be fewer 2 wire lines to connect a dialer to.  Plan for and begin your migration to the current technology today so you are not trying to sell VCR’s in a DVD world.
    Just my opinion.  Ken thanks for the information forum you provide to the industry.
Mike Fletcher
Florida Alarm School LLC
Brandon, Florida
813-621-2333
www.floridaalarmschool.org
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Ken
    Potts lines are definitely more reliable than Internet and of course are still available ,at least  in our area .i own my own company and my house has always transmitted over my ATT land line and it never goes down.i am going to put cellular back up in for a couple of reasons but it is not a priority at all.
Pendell Meyers
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Ken
    Dump POTS? YES, YES, and YES!
    Koorsen and every Central Station we have ever used for the past 12 years has had various communications issues associated with POTs lines and VoIP, whether used at the premise or in the long distance networks (even when the customer has POTs lines - sometimes called “VoIP in the back-haul”).  The NFPA and some state fire codes have reacted to this decline in POTS service.  ”NFPA72 2013. 26.6.3.2.1.4 (B) 2. Interval for testing each circuit shall not exceed 6 hours.” Indiana modified NFPA72 2010 DACT requirements in the State Fire Code effectively prohibiting 2 POTS lines.      In Indiana you must use two different modes of communications.   Koorsen only sells cellular and internet in the residential market and strongly recommends a combination of cellular and internet communication in commercial environments.  This recommendation is on the front and back of our agreements.  We also have language that warns of the potential phone line issues and requires a customer switch to cellular and/or internet (or be canceled) if POTs lines or VoIP are determined by KFS to be causing trouble conditions, missed signals, or false dispatches to the wrong customer (a common symptom of VoIP).
    POTS is dying, indeed it is already dead in parts of the country. 
Thank you,
Rob Driscoll, Director, Business Integration
KOORSEN FIRE & SECURITY
Indianapolis, IN
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Ken Kirschenbaum,Esq
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC
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