New ‘Cable Modem POTS Lines’ Threatens Fire Alarms

I love technology, with all its newness and the new capabilities. At times, I even love the smell. Once in a while, we all have one of those “what the heck?” moments when we question the logic behind a technology change. In the end we usually don’t have a choice, but changes in one area often dictate changes in another.

First and foremost, I want to be clear. In today’s world, internet is being delivered via fiber or cable modem, depending on the need. At Roundbrix, we deploy more fiber than cable to businesses to have fully appreciable symmetrical and guaranteed bandwidth.

sipPhone lines on the other hand, are delivered in a variety of forms. From the newer SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), to its predecessor PRI (Primary Rate Interface or Voice T-1) to the original POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) lines, which are the analog predecessor commonly utilized for older or smaller phone systems. More importantly, these analog lines have always been used for both burglar and fire alarm lines due to their reliability and non-susceptibility to power outages. The legacy POTS lines always used to be powered by the Central Office, also called a CO. Here, a copper pair of 24 AWG with 48VDC running through it 24 x 7 makes it RELIABLE. It’s also one of the reasons you never wanted a phone near a bathtub as dropping a permanently powered DC electric source could lead to electrocution. But for a fire or burglar alarm, it was perfect. No matter what happened, including a localized power outage for days on end, these central offices always had power and backup power so you could rest assured these important lines would always be able to dial out should there be a fire or burglar-related emergency. For those of us ‘slightly older folks’ remember that the power might go out at our house, but we were always able to use our land lines regardless. This was built into the design on purpose.

Now for the bad news. In a move to be more efficient, and in also considering superseding aging copper, it appears they have made a major blunder. You see, the power backup on a cable modem is only good for a couple hours, four at the most. What this means is if power goes out and no one is at facility beyond the few hours the cable modem might hold it, your fire alarm cannot dial out! Then it’s up to who sees the fire and calls 9-1-1, meaning a lot more property damage could occur, not to mention possible loss of life as a result. In my opinion, these lines from the service provider should be deployed with a clear understanding of the risk with a way to hedge the risk, which is my next point.fire

Here’s the best solution. Purchase an external UPS unit, typically a 1500 VA system. This unit could add another day or so of power to the POTS lines provisioned through the cable modem. If you need more time, then bump up to a 2200 VA system. This is extremely important for businesses that do not occupy the building during nights and weekends, short of mentioning those three or four days for longer weekends like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here is a link to an APC 1500 for $200 and a link to an APC2200 for $900. In keeping with best practice for UPS units when installed, put a ‘born on’ date on the top and replace it after three years, or more frequently if power outages are more frequent.

Getting one of these units would be a small price to pay to get to greatly mitigate property damage and you may just save a life!

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Next Big Thing is Here – SIP trunks for Voice!

Having been in the Telecom field for well over twenty years, we were always saddled with certain decisions when it came to trunks to PSTN (Public Switch Telephone Network).  If you could live with marginal voice quality or didn’t have the budget to pop for a T-1 voice circuit, you had few options.  Your choices were between using POTS lines, CO (Central Office) trunks, or tie trunks if multi-location. These were typically analog with a snap, crackle, pop reminiscent of Rice Krispies1

The other choice was a voice T-1 or PRI flavor, both of which we were more expensive, but as it was digital, it was crystal clear and the bonus was it only used four wires for 24 phone lines or 23 for PRI (ISDN Primary Rate Interface). Heck, even I paid for PRI though I did not have a need for all the lines as I could not accept sacrificing call quality.

Fast-forward to today and Session Initiation Protocol, aka SIP. There are a lot of cool things about it, but it’s important to understand its current form of implementation.  It can also be implemented in a couple different manners. It can be delivered by your carrier over Ethernet, but don’t think that it will conflict and turn into a VoIP chattering, as it comes in on its own circuit. Alternately, as it is a protocol, it can also be delivered over existing MPLS circuits for multi-location businesses as long as QoS is enabled.  Important to note is that the SIP connection provided by your carrier is from your phone system/PBX to the carrier. The calls to the outside world are still carried through PSTN so the quality will remain acceptable.Print

What is so cool about SIP? First off, it handles both voice and video. But here is the really neat thing, much like a SuperTrunk of days gone by or the PRI of today, if you need less that 20-some lines, but want the robust DID (Direct Inward Dial) functionality, SIP trunks are for you.  Here’s a real scenario. I pay $250 per month for a PRI, but I can get 5 each SIP trunks (at $12 each for 3-year commitment) for $60 a month!  This will save me $190 per month and that’s a good thing – a real good thing!

SIP trunks may not be for everyone and may not even be available in your area, but if considering a new phone system or a new carrier, you should at least consider SIP trunks. If you’re simply changing telecom carrier and want to entertain SIP trunks, you will need to check to see if your phone system is SIP-trunk ready and capable.  Those pesky details!

If you want to know more or if you area or phone system is SIP-trunk ready, feel free to give us a call. We’re here to help!

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