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Are Your Alarms Using POTS Lines? Why Going Cellular Is the Right Move

Alarms_Pots Lines

Remember the last time you returned a videotape to Blockbuster? 

If you’re anything like us, you probably remember those Friday afternoon runs to rent classics like Jumanji or Ghostbusters – and popping popcorn in the microwave (before it started appearing on supermarket shelves in ready-to-eat format!).

What’s the gist behind this little trip down memory lane? As you can probably guess, it all has to do with one word: change

Change is inevitable, but even if we see it coming, we aren’t always prepared when it finally arrives. Most of us never imagined we’d one day browse and select movie titles at the touch of a button on platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. 

POTS, Alarms and Your Building: What’s Changing and Why It Matters

What does change have to do with the alarms in your building? Ironically, the answer to that question comes in the form of another question: are your building alarms currently using Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) lines? If so, it’s time to look at embracing change. The real issue, however, is how best to address the shift away from POTS for the safety and security of your building and the people within it. Here’s what we mean.

As analog copper phone lines, POTS connections used to be the reliable go-to infrastructure for communications needs of all kinds – right up until the late ‘80s. Like big hair and synth bands, they’ve been going out of style as cellular standards, voice over IP (VoIP) and a host of other unified communications features gradually took the spotlight. Now, in many buildings, you’ll see POTS lines used for emergency applications such as blue light emergency services (e.g. police, fire, ambulance), alarm systems, elevator lines and security gates. 

Unfortunately for businesses, telephone providers are already drawing back on their support for this aging infrastructure. POTS lines are becoming expensive to maintain, and carriers are passing those costs down to consumers. As a result, it makes sense to look for an alternative solution. 

What Kind of Options Are Out There for POTS Replacement? 

Change is undeniable, but the real question is what to do about it. 

Before we leap into that discussion, it’s worth remembering that your alarms don’t operate in a vacuum. From state Fire Marshals to insurance companies and other government agencies, there are requirements covering all aspects of signal initiation and transmission as well as system performance and reliability. Think about it like this: if your alarm systems do not perform to the required standard and a power outage, fire or other event occurs, you could be on the hook for the fallout.

For years, copper POTS lines satisfied these kinds of requirements. Using dedicated phone lines ensured that signals were received and transmitted reliably – in some cases, building owners leveraged two POTS lines for redundancy. Equally important, these lines did not require electricity to run. Thus, in the case of an outage, a building’s alarm systems would stay active, providing vital safety and security to the property and its occupants. 

With the recent scaling back of support for an increasingly expensive, aging infrastructure, two replacement solutions have become popular – VoIP and cellular LTE. Here’s why cellular is your best bet.

While VoIP is an excellent option for voice lines and is more affordable than POTS, for alarm lines, its major drawback is that it relies on an internet connection – packet switching across the internet to be precise. Unfortunately, when POTS lines are replaced with VoIP lines, alarm signals can become unrecognizable to the monitoring center. Most of the alarm signals used today utilize a unique form of data transmission that is designed to communicate complicated information very quickly to the monitoring center. Today’s alarm signal transmission formats don’t work well with VoIP technology because VoIP sends alarm signals as a series of tiny data packets and changes the data format during the process. This can cause the monitoring center to stop receiving signals from your alarm line. As a result, VoIP is unreliable as a primary option for alarm lines because the communication often becomes distorted and fails. 

The far better option is an LTE cellular POTS replacement solution. Like POTS lines, cellular ones rely on a circuit switched network where dedicated lines remain open but protected from other traffic and interference. Cellular lines also do not require running electricity to function. Thus, in the case of a power outage, your alarms will still function with the reliability you require. Also, cellular transmitters send alarm signals instantaneously whereas a POTS line can take up to 30 seconds. In an emergency situation, seconds make a critical difference. 

At a high level, the LTE cellular system we at Xtel offer leverages an analog transition adapter (ATA) to convert the analog signals your alarms generate to digital ones. It also includes an LTE-based router with a SIM card slot and ports for connection to the internet – a handy failover mechanism – as well as a battery backup. In short, the LTE cellular system provides the performance and reliability building owners need – it’s a simple and cost-effective shift from aging POTS lines.

In short, change is a reality of life, but it doesn’t have to be painful. If you’re still using POTS lines for your vital building alarms, consider the move to a cellular LTE-based replacement solution. At Xtel, we’re here to help you create the customized solutions you need to take your operations to the next level. Reach out to us and one of our experts (including our engineers!) would be happy to answer your questions.