All-IP provides great opportunity, but some concerns remain – 5 minutes with Paul Durkin

Alarm-receiving centres (ARCs) play a vital role in securing and protecting some of the most important public services and operations in the nation, helping to identify and act upon potential emergencies early and effectively. This is especially true in the fire and security industries – the upcoming switch to ‘all-IP’ systems across the UK, therefore, represents a pivotal milestone for the sector and brings with it several implications.

In this blog, we speak to Paul Durkin, Managing Director of Scutum Digital, one of the largest ARCs in the UK, about the impeding switch over to all-IP and what that means for alarm signalling in the fire and security industry.

Q What does the term ‘all-IP’ mean to you?

To me, all-IP means the closure or updating of the existing PSTN network. For us at Scutum Digital, this involves a major upgrade of the signalling products we monitor and changing those legacy products (some of which have been there for over 30 years) to incorporate newer technology.

Q What are the drawbacks of the current setup (utilising the PSTN)?

Since PSTN is relatively old technology, there is limited traceability in the signals sent to us from sites. Much of the older PSTN technology we see is ‘point to point’, which means it leaves site just like a landline phone call would and then it’s difficult to track past that. In other words, the PSTN network was never designed for security, but it has been utilised for it.

Solutions that utilise modern networks – like BT Redcare’s, for example – are managed, meaning signals leave the site and can be traced to ARCs with timestamps so there is a high level of visibility of exactly when it was delivered and received.

Another important factor with PSTN is everyone needs a telephone line, which brings with it line rental or call charges. What’s more, different providers use slightly different equipment, which can introduce security vulnerabilities across the network.

Q What opportunities/benefits do you think all-IP will bring you?

I think it will ultimately give our customers more confidence in the signalling products they’re using – they can be certain that ARCs will always be notified when an alarm is triggered. Using the PSTN, because of the lack of traceability, should alarm signals not reach ARCs, it’s difficult to determine where the fault is in the chain – all-IP will change that instantly and will ultimately lead to an enhanced level of service.

We will also need less hardware under all-IP. This is because many traditional PSTN products require more equipment to receive signals – often a significant amount of it. With all-IP, ARCs don’t require such hefty and varied technology stacks, freeing up a huge amount of resource. This consolidation of different similar systems really streamlines our operations.

Q What opportunities/benefits do you think all-IP will bring for the end user?

For the end-user, there is a real possibility for cost-saving. Most commercial business have some form of broadband, which often use radio or IP networks and won’t require any additional equipment.

Security-wise, it’s much easier for ARCs to monitor the line and identify interruptions in the signal’s path. With basic PSTN products, nobody knows there’s a fault in the line until the unit tries to contact an ARC and can’t. All-IP means permanently monitored paths, which ensures faults are identified and rectified before they are truly needed in an emergency.

Q How can alarm signalling providers help in the transition to all-IP?

Overall, I think they’re probably doing as much as they can. They’re being very proactive by publicising themselves, speaking to installers and crucially discontinuing old products wherever possible.

Providers should continue to work with installers to encourage them to evolve older portfolios to Next Generation ones. We must all keep reminding ourselves that 2025 is the end date and that the process has already started – we can’t leave it to 12 or 24 months before that point to act.

Q Is there anything the wider alarm industry can do to help in the transition to all-IP?

They must make sure the last remaining PSTN products are withdrawn from sale, but I think we’re well on track with this goal. Otherwise, upping the publicity as much as possible will be very important alongside doubling down on their efforts. If we compare this experience to the switch to digital television, we saw government and public organisations like Ofcom advertising the switch to users and explaining the steps people will have to take. We haven’t seen any of this to my knowledge with all-IP, but this can easily – and should – be addressed.

Without consistent education, there is of course understandable hesitancy from some customers, so now is the opportunity to build customer trust. Be transparent throughout the entire journey so that they know they’re in good hands.

Q What does the future of alarm signalling hold? What innovation is on the horizon in the industry?

For the most part, technology will make things easier in the long term and end users will be provided with greater experience and value. The combination of CCTV and AI is a good example of this.

What’s critical, however, is that the market doesn’t react too late. The industry needs to make sure it has enough resources and labour to service the opportunities that will present themselves due to the move to all-IP.

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