Phone Lines vs. Radio Dialers vs. Cellular Dialers

When it comes to fire alarm monitoring, there are different methods of communication that can be used to transmit signals from the fire alarm system to the central monitoring station, protecting your people and building. Three common options are phone lines, radio dialers, and cellular dialers. Here, we’ll cover the pros and cons of each so you can make the best decision for your fire safety system.

Fire Alarm Monitoring With Phone Lines

This method involves connecting the fire alarm system to the monitoring center via dedicated phone lines, usually to a primary and secondary. When an alarm is triggered, the fire alarm system sends a signal through the phone line to alert the monitoring center.

Pros of Phone Line Communication:

  • Reliable Communication: Phone lines provide a reliable means of transmitting alarm signals, as they are typically hardwired connections.

Cons of Phone Line Communication:

  • Vulnerability to Line Cuts: Phone lines can be susceptible to physical damage, such as line cuts or disruptions caused by accidents, construction, or natural disasters. In such cases, the communication between the fire alarm system and the monitoring center can be interrupted and the building is placed on fire watch.
  • Availability: Since hard lines aren’t typically provided into buildings anymore, the availability of phone line monitoring has been diminishing. IP phone lines are not approved as the “box” that provides that phone line has a very small battery that does not provide supervised backup for emergencies.
  • Limited Functionality: Phone lines may only support basic alarm signal transmission and may not offer additional features or capabilities, such as two-way communication or remote system programming.
  • Added Extra Parties & Costs: When phone line communication is in use, a phone company is also required when any repairs or maintenance is needed. This also adds an extra monthly fee from the phone company since the phone lines need to be dedicated just to fire monitoring.

Fire Alarm Monitoring With Radio Dialer Communication:

A fire alarm system equipped with a radio dialer transmits alarm signals wirelessly to the monitoring center. This system is reliable, available in most areas, and allows for any maintenance to come directly from your fire safety partner.

Pros of Radio Dialers:

  • Wireless Connectivity: Radio dialers are independent of existing phone lines or internet connections, making it suitable for even remote or rural areas where access to cellular networks may be limited or unreliable. It provides a dedicated and direct communication channel for fire alarm monitoring.
  • Reliability: Backup power supplies can be equipped, ensuring continuous communication even during power outages. They can also utilize multiple repeaters to create a redundant network, minimizing the risk of signal loss.
  • Longevity: Radio signals have been around for a long time and aren’t going anywhere. After a radio dialer is installed, it can be maintained  to run effectively for years to come.
  • Security: Radio signals can offer enhanced security for fire alarm monitoring. Since radio dialers use a separate frequency or encrypted transmission, they are less susceptible to hacking or tampering compared to cellular signals, which rely on public networks.
  • Cost: In some cases, radio dialers can be more cost-effective than cellular dialers, particularly when multiple fire alarm systems need to be monitored. It also doesn’t require a phone company which charges extra monthly costs. Once the radio infrastructure is set up, there are typically no ongoing fees or charges for transmitting signals, making it a potentially more affordable long-term solution

Cons of Radio Dialers:

  • Potentially Limited Range: The coverage range of radio dialers is generally more limited compared to cellular signals. The effectiveness of radio dialers heavily relies on the proximity to the monitoring center and the presence of clear line-of-sight or minimal obstructions.
  • Interference: Radio signals can be susceptible to interference from other electronic devices or physical obstacles such as buildings, trees, or hills. This interference can disrupt the transmission and reception of fire alarm signals, potentially leading to delays or missed alarms.
  • Regulatory Restrictions: The use of radio frequencies for fire alarm monitoring may be subject to specific regulations and licensing requirements, depending on the jurisdiction. These regulations might involve additional costs and administrative tasks to ensure compliance.

Fire Alarm Monitoring With Cellular Dialer Communication:

Cellular dialers are similar to radio dialer wireless communication, but use cellular networks such as LTE, 4G, or 5G. In this approach, the fire alarm system is equipped so alarm signals are transmitted wirelessly from a cellular dialer through a cellular network to the monitoring center. These are great for if a strong radio signal isn’t available in your area.

Pros of Cellular Dialers:

  • Wide Coverage: Cellular signals provide extensive coverage in most urban and rural areas, making them suitable for fire alarm monitoring in various locations. They utilize existing cellular networks, ensuring that fire alarm signals can be transmitted from almost anywhere with cellular coverage.
  • Reliability: Cellular dialers offer a redundant communication option. In the event of a primary communication failure, such as a loss of power or phone line disruption, cellular signals can serve as a backup method for transmitting fire alarm signals to the monitoring center.
  • Ease of Installation: These are relatively easy to install since they utilize standard cellular technology. They can be integrated into existing fire alarm systems with minimal modifications or additional infrastructure requirements. This ease of installation reduces setup time and complexity.
  • Remote Monitoring: They also allow for remote monitoring of fire alarm systems. Authorized personnel can receive instant notifications or alerts regarding fire alarms via phone calls, text messages, or dedicated monitoring software applications, providing flexibility and convenience in managing fire alarm systems.

Cons of Cellular Dialers:

  • Signal Sunsetting and Reliability: Since cellular dialers are connected to cellular networks, new dialer installation is needed when older cellular networks are no longer available. In areas with poor or congested cellular coverage, network disruptions can also result in delayed or lost alarm signals, potentially impacting the response time to emergencies. Signal strength is also dependent on the surrounding cellular infrastructure.
  • Security Vulnerabilities: Cellular signals operate over public networks, which can be vulnerable to security threats. Although cellular networks implement security measures, there is still a small risk compared to the dedicated frequency or encryption used in radio dialers.
  • Ongoing Costs: Cellular dialers typically require a subscription or service plan with a cellular provider. These ongoing costs can add up over time, especially when monitoring multiple fire alarm systems or in situations where long-term monitoring is required. Additionally, if there are changes in cellular service providers or plans, it may involve additional expenses or system reconfiguration.
  • Regulatory Limitations: Depending on the jurisdiction, certain regulations and restrictions may apply to the use of cellular signals for fire alarm monitoring. Compliance with these regulations, including obtaining necessary licenses or approvals, is essential to ensure the legality and proper operation of the fire alarm system.

It is important to carefully consider the specific requirements, location, and circumstances when choosing between phone line, radio, or cellular dialers for fire alarm monitoring. At Integrity, we can help you make the best choice for your building. Start today for a site visit or phone call and we’ll keep you safe and compliant as your partner in fire. Because it matters.