Getting more out of the panel

End users and central stations alike are driving control panel innovation
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Trends in control panel development are both changing very rapidly and changing very little at all. Hot-button topics like IP connectivity and false-alarm reduction through compliance with the CP-01 standard and other methods continue to dominate product upgrades throughout the industry. With the looming AMPS sunset, VoIP solutions and GSM communication have come to the forefront to make sure that alarm communication to central stations remains feasible and functioning as consumers drop their landlines and cellular carriers move to digital communication. Meanwhile, more and more manufacturers--Bosch and DMP have made notable announcements lately--have come on board with the ANSI CP-01 standard, developed to cover event recognition, information handling sequences and provisions for system layout testing, and user error is becoming less of a problem in creating false alarms.
At the same time, said Mark Hillenburg, product architect with DMP, "the customer wants more and more out of their control panel." Specifically, installers with central stations want to be able to send signals to multiple locations simultaneously, the new buzzword being "hot redundancy."
"Where we see the demand for increased functionality is on the commercial side," said Hillenburg. "We do a lot of banks and financial institutions and 90 percent of them are monitored over a data network." At the same time, the companies monitoring them have "multiple central stations in place, redundant stations for disaster recovery, and so with that they want information to be going to multiple places at once."
Previously, he said, it was sufficient to have a primary location and a backup, and the backup got degraded information. "If the primary site went down, we'd send to the backup," said Hillenburg. "Now people are wanting everything coming to the primary and the backup at the same time and the backup is fully functional." Of course, "IP addresses make that really practical," he said. "You could do it with a series of phone numbers, but the dialing sequence would take so long you might end up with information arriving 15 or 20 minutes after the event. You can try 15 or 20 times at each site within a second or two over IP."
Darren Eames, global platform leader for wireless platforms at GE Security, agreed with Hillenburg--"central stations can really take advantage of the routing and infrastructure"--but said IP connectivity is affecting the residential market as well. While Hillenburg said home automation was likely to remain a niche market, Eames posited that new IP communications methods combined with wireless connectivity make control panels and alarm systems in general "easier to install and program, and make them play nicely with other products in the home."
"I think there is room for the security system in the home to integrate more and there is a customer expectation that it will," Eames said. "Whether it's lights or heating or whatever, the number one unmet need is convenience. End users want technology to make their life easier. So, if there's an interface to do that, that's better. If there's an indicator on the keypad saying there's a certain number of people in the house when they walk in, that makes their life easier. That's convenience."
Hillenburg agreed that what Eames described was more easily down nowadays, but he disagreed about the demand. "There has always been some application for [combining home systems], but I don't see that growing," he said. "There's always the one guy who's got the three million dollar house and wants everything controlled from one box, but I don't see that as the norm for residential applications. In my estimation, the needs of the alarm panel are getting simpler. There's more companies that are doing the 99-dollar-down system, two doors and a motion detector. And the need for qualified installers is higher than ever, so the more complicated the product, the more difficult it is to find the people to install it."
At the very least, said John Mannerberg, business development/project manager for Asia Pacific & Latin America in Siemens' security division, "people don't want to have a product that's ugly. The high-end residential market and commercial market alike want options for what their control panels look like." The new Sintony 60 line from Siemens, which will hit North America soon and is being sold in Europe right now, features everything from a '70s-faux-wood look to brushed steel to modern and bright colors that wouldn't seem out of place on an iPod.
"Design," he said, "is clearly a priority at Siemens."
Also, noted Mannerberg, "You can combine the panel with the keypad or keep them separate. Many commercial applications don't want the 'brains' at the entrance to the building with the keypad."
Clearly, security shouldn't be forgotten in the rush for functionality. That's a concern as old as the industry. Just because new communication methods are making new things possible doesn't mean manufacturers have forgotten the prime function of the control panel: Keeping people safe.