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Is The Future 5G?

If 20 years ago you asked a security practitioner or integrator about using IP-based networks and megapixel cameras, the response was probably a laugh and a shrug of the shoulders. Everyone was happy with CCTV systems. Analog was king. Business was good.

But as we know – even in an industry as conservative as security – the technology beat rolls on. Today, megapixel video is a backbone and has even given way to 4K, a consumer-based technology. H.264 has paved the way for H.265 and superior bandwidth management. One-time stalwarts like plain old telephone service (POTS) lines and 2G are simply things of the past.

Now, 5G seems like the peak of the mountain. And while 5G is simply a dream for tomorrow in security applications, it is paving the way for innovation in hundreds of industries. But before we decide if the security industry will join bleeding-edge markets like self-driving cars and virtual reality with 5G, there is another sunset on the horizon.

CDMA Coming to an End
According to Statista, smartphone penetration in the United States is nearly 70 percent, with that number expected to increase to around 73 percent by 2021. A 70-percent smartphone adoption rate represents a 200-percent increase over just the last seven years.

“That growth and opportunity has driven the need for phone carriers to increase network speed and capacity – 2G, 3G and so forth, up to LTE today,” explains Jorge Hevia, CMO and SVP of Sales for Napco Security Technologies. “For the alarm business, that has meant some equipment upgrades, as Telcos sunsetted older networks. Unlike POTS lines that were seemingly always there for alarm dealers, the security industry now has to keep up with a very dynamic, data-hungry cellular technology to keep reporting alarms.”

Alarm dealers got a first-hand look at the impact of these transitions with the recent 2G sunset. “While we all routinely expect to upgrade our cellphones, it comes as a surprise when we have to do that with cellular alarm communications too,” Hevia says. “It is a necessary part of being in the digital age, but with that cellular evolution, the alarm industry has far greater opportunity to create new RMR, new consumption adoption and new needs-based vitality for our services.”

With the 2G sunset now in the rearview mirror for this industry, the next technology on the chopping block is Verizon’s CDMA; in fact, the company has reportedly informed all of its dealers and vendor partners that CDMA will be decommissioned by 2020.

“It will certainly have an impact, but as an industry we are getting better with these transitions,” says Tom Mechler, regional marketing manager for Bosch Security and Safety Systems.

According to SD&I’s sources, companies that specialize in cellular alarm communications like Napco, Bosch and Telguard – just to name a few – have secured a commitment that the CDMA network will remain operational until the end of 2022.

“Verizon partners, such as Telguard, have negotiated a multi-year extension of our CDMA devices beyond a general sunset date,” says Shawn Welsh, Telguard’s SVP of Product Management and Marketing. “We only put that date in writing with our customers because Verizon has authorized the disclosure of the sunset date directly to our dealers. I would encourage all security dealers to ask their cellular alarm communications partner to provide the date.”

Similar to the 2G sunset situation, Verizon’s extension of functionality will give integrators years to plan and react; however, many let the 2G date sneak up on them. “We don’t feel there is significant urgency to replace CDMA modules now; however, dealers and integrators should be planning for this upgrade over the next few years,” Mechler says.

CDMA Alternatives

The most obvious replacement cellular communications technology for alarm dealers and integrators is LTE. “LTE alarm communicators give us both the large data transmission bandwidth and speed needed for viable IoT, video and security functions on a smartphone,” Hevia says.

Additionally, the looming CDMA sunset – much like the 2G sunset – is certainly an opportunity for security dealers and integrators to remain in close contact with customers; and perhaps a chance to sell them on upgrades.

“Alarm service providers should communicate (the CDMA sunset) as soon as possible and encourage their customers to upgrade over time,” Mechler advises. “The change from CDMA to LTE does not, in itself, provide any significant enhancements for the end-customer, but it does provide an opportunity for the service provider to contact customers and discuss upgrade opportunities, such as remote control and automation.”

Adds Welsh: “Every sunset should be an opportunity for dealers. Knowing that a device may sunset during a contract term gives dealers the opportunity to plan a service call that introduces new features so that the upgrade feels like a natural pro-customer event and not frantic, do-or-die chaos.”

The question is, can the security and alarm industry count on LTE for the foreseeable future? “LTE promises the longest cellular lifespan available over 10-plus years, so upgrading accounts (to LTE) will have the installed longevity needed to keep them online for the long haul,” Hevia says.

Mechler fully expects that 4G LTE will remain for the next several years. “It does provide a very reliable, fast communication path for the alarm industry; however, we should not be complacent. (LTE) will go away eventually, and that is why it is important to choose a product that makes future upgrades simple.”

Vendors like Bosch are preparing for this eventuality with “plug-in technology” that is designed to accommodate any new communication technology – even if it has not yet been invented.

Telguard markets upgrade kits that enable a communications shift without having to remove the existing enclosure, antenna or power supply.

Napco offers a “free for all” promotion for system upgrades and recently launched a full line of LTE communicators.

For those customers/integrators who want to go away from cellular communications altogether, companies like AES Corporation offer Mesh Radio technology to convert to wireless alarm communications.

The Top of the Mountain: 5G

5G represents the pinnacle of communications – promising to connect everything to a network that is 100-times faster than an LTE cellular connection and 10 times faster than the fastest home broadband service. Verizon describes 5G as the fifth generation of wireless technology, calling it “one of the fastest, most robust technologies the world has ever seen…Autonomous cars, smart communities, industrial IoT, immersive education – they will all rely on 5G.”

Will the security industry rely on it as well? With a technology so new, it is truly something of imagination at this point.

“The real advantage in 5G is the increased bandwidth – that is why it will be the path for bandwidth-heavy applications like self-driving cars,” Mechler says. “Alarm applications use a relatively small amount of bandwidth, so from an alarm standpoint, it won’t make much of a difference; however, where it will make a difference is the transmission of video – especially in regards to alarm verification, remote video monitoring, and the ability to push video to hand-held devices.”

“On a high level, any technology that provides higher bandwidth and is more secure will be good for the industry – especially IoT and video,” says Fredrik Nilsson, VP Americas for Axis Communications. “I think though that most security IoT devices will be connected to some kind of fiber or wired networks, and that 5G will take quite some time to build out.”

Welsh says that LTE and newer 5G options based on LTE are designed to peacefully coexist, so there will not be a need to sunset an older one to make room for the new one. That said, he adds that 5G can open new markets for the entire industry.

“The alarm industry doesn’t need greater bandwidth, but it does benefit greatly by one specific improvement: building penetration,” Welsh says. “New 5G standards are delivering deep building coverage far beyond prior cellular generations.”

While the 5G future seems to be a long climb up the mountain in 2018, the industry should always be prepared and informed. “There will always be something better on the horizon,” Welsh says. “The important habit that a security dealer needs to adopt is to partner with companies that understand the technology on the horizon and making sure that everyday business is not disrupted by it.” – Security Info Watch

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