Spotlight on… All IP and the Alarm Industry - interview with Dave Wilkinson by Openreach

Friday 05 May 2023 -

This article was first published in Openreach's monthly newsletter

In this issue we offer an insight into the alarm industry and the work they’re undertaking as we upgrade to All IP.

David Wilkinson is the Director of Technical Services at the British Security and Industry Association (BSIA Ltd). David works closely with industry partners and leads on the alarm industry transition from copper services to All IP and provides the voice of the professional security industry in a significant time of technical change.

We asked David…

What do you see as the benefits of the digital upgrade to All IP?

All IP is seen as an opportunity to bring alarm signalling up to date with latest advancements in technology and connectivity. With this comes benefits in products that offer greater levels of service in terms of alarm signalling reliability, robustness, and enhanced remote servicing and diagnostics (reducing our carbon footprint), as well as integration opportunities to Internet of Things (IoT) type services, offering added end-user value. As well as ‘future proofing’ the technology, advancements in product design and operation are more environmentally friendly – better for our planet!

What do you see as the challenges of this transition?

There are three fundamental challenges. Firstly, and most importantly, alarm signalling equipment has traditionally been designed to operate on the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), and this has been a very reliable service to transport alarm signals to monitoring centres. Transitioning to an All IP network will alter the way alarm signals will be transported across the network, and older (legacy) equipment is less likely to work reliably, if at all. Through rigorous testing of alarm signalling equipment on the new All IP networks, we have seen incompatibilities emerge, which can result in alarm signals either not reaching the monitoring centre or being corrupted, so the appropriate response cannot always be initiated.

Secondly, communicating the message to the supply chain about the upgrade to All IP remains a challenge. Whilst there is continued engagement from Openreach to CPs and industry bodies, I don’t believe the message is getting out across the whole supply chain down to the end-users. Unlike the Digital TV change-over campaign, which was advertised at a national level through multiple media channels, the upgrade to All IP is down to individual CPs informing their customers.

Lastly, we are mindful that alarm systems can often be seen as a grudge purchase, so it is of little surprise that customers wishing to buy new superfast broadband services, don’t necessarily see how this may impact on the alarm system connected to the broadband service. Alarm service companies are increasingly being called out to faults where the signalling has stopped working efficiently, and where this is a result of the change of the end-user’s broadband service, there is often disagreement over the expectations of the alarm signalling device.

BSIA launched an awareness campaign back in 2019 directed to the alarm industry raising awareness of the All IP programme and its ‘call to action’ campaign continues to run today, so we are pleased that many alarm service providers are actively engaging their end-user base to provide professional advice on updating alarm signalling equipment where necessary. But this remains a challenge for the reasons highlighted above. There are All IP compatible solutions on the market today, including those which not only use the broadband connection, but can also use the radio / mobile networks across the UK.

The alarm industry cannot enforce change on end-users to update their alarm signalling systems, and time is running out for end-users that do not recognise the need to have their alarm signalling systems checked and updated if necessary. The challenge is for all the telecommunications industry players and industry sectors (like security, fire, telecare etc.) to work together to send out a consistent and clear message to end-users on the importance of having their connected services checked for compatibility to operate across the All IP network. 

What have you or your associates done to get ready for this migration?

BSIA has been actively involved in the All IP programme since it was first announced. We had prior experience of an earlier insight into an IP telephony service called 21CN back in 2007 where BSIA member companies engaged in testing their products on that network. That gave our manufacturers an understanding of what may lie ahead.

At the early stages of the current All IP roll-out, BSIA engaged in the Ofcom organised meetings, alerting all parties to what we perceived to be the key challenges that our industry sector, and therefore our customers, would face. Since then, we have actively raised awareness with our member companies, be they manufacturers, installers / service providers, or monitoring centres. We have presented at many Openreach seminars, attend all Openreach update working group meetings, and have a dedicated set of web pages that focus on the testing of alarm signalling equipment.

BSIA remains the lead organisation representing the security and fire sector on the upgrade to All IP.

What advice would you give to others?

Our key advice is engagement. It is vital that affected industry sectors engage with Openreach, and other access providers, to ensure they understand the latest updates and advice available to all parts of the supply chain. The potential consequences of connected services not working when most needed could impact greatly on end-users.

Equally communication is key. Our experience suggests there is much room for improvement in the consistent messaging that needs to go out across the supply chain to inform and protect the end-user. The All IP roll-out is a milestone project affecting many millions of homes and businesses across the UK.