April 2005 Perimeter Security, Alarms & Intruder Detection

The right questions to ask when choosing a long range radio transmitter and base station/repeater supplier.

How do I source all the different equipment I need to set up a radio alarm network?

All the required equipment is generally manufactured by the same supplier. In fact, you will run into trouble if you mix and match equipment. Choose a manufacturer or supplier who can supply and provide backup for radio transmitters, base stations and repeaters. This is basically all you need to run your network effectively.

How can I operate if I do not have my own frequency?

SABRE frequencies in major centres are in short supply and there is often a waiting list. If you need to get started quickly, using a supplier's frequency is the best option. Most suppliers will assist you with your own frequency application while you use their frequency in the interim, but they charge a monthly rental on each transmitter in the field. There are, however, suppliers who do not charge and you will do well to investigate this option to save yourself a lot of money each month.

I do not know what is required of me by ICASA and quite frankly, I do not have the time to keep track of licence fees. What can I do?

You need to pay an annual licence fee to ICASA for each transmitter you have in the field. It is your responsibility to keep ICASA up to date with the number of transmitters you have. If you operate on your own frequency, each repeater in your network must also be licensed and paid for annually. The equipment supplier may not supply equipment to you if they do not have your valid ICASA licence on hand. Choose a supplier who has a frequency management department that can assist you.

Once I decide on a supplier for my alarm radios and network, I am kind of stuck with them. How do I know I can rely on them in the future?

The trick is to ask as many questions as possible. Some companies have been around for decades and know the industry well. They continually update and improve their products, and only manufacture radio equipment for the security industry, so you can be sure where their focus lies. Look for the ones who export and have many hundreds of thousands of transmitters currently working in the field. Ask about delivery times on transmitters and details about their backup service. If you are based outside of the Gauteng area, make sure that your supplier has a distributor or branch in your area to keep stock on the shelf for you.

What happens if I need technical assistance in the middle of the night or over a holiday period?

There have been some horror stories doing the rounds about this. Make sure that your supplier has a full 24-hour backup service. It is also important that they are available during the holidays and especially over the festive season. This is the busiest time for security companies and you must be able to get assistance.

What are the most important features to look for when buying a transmitter?

Look for features that benefit you and your technicians! An engineer test button that sends a marginal signal, simulating interference at the base, is always a big help. It sets your mind at ease that any signal will get through under extreme conditions. Compatibility with the various control panels is also an issue. Having internal pull-up resistors for negative trip makes the transmitter compatible with any control panel and simplifies connections for the technician.

Look carefully at how the mains fail and restore signals work. What often happens is that a power failure will occur in a certain area prompting all the transmitters in that area to send a mains fail signal at the same time, jamming up the network. A similar situation occurs when the power is restored. Look for a transmitter that has a different built-in delay for each individual transmitter. This will stagger the signals and eliminate the problem.

You also need versatility. Choose transmitters that can be programmed in the field. Most security companies maintain the factory settings, but you may want to customise your set-up to suit your customers. You will be able to set features - like input polarity, alarm input delays, and self-test timers etc. Buy a compatible programmer from your supplier. Some have a clever 'clone' feature, which makes programming batches of transmitters simple.

What is a synthesised transmitter?

Basically, a synthesised transmitter makes use of a newer technology to determine the frequency on which the transmitter operates. If the transmitters you are using are programmable, you can change the code number and frequency in the field. Changing the frequency or code number on a non-synthesised transmitter involves removing and replacing components, which is a very expensive process. Using synthesised transmitters that are programmable onsite makes the migration of transmitters from old frequencies to new SABRE frequencies much easier and less expensive. This process needs to be carefully managed. You do not want anyone interfering with the code number or frequency of transmitters in the field. A good supplier will assist you in managing the migration process and provide protection on the programmer to avoid unauthorised frequency and code changes.

How do I make sure that my technicians are doing each installation correctly?

Nobody knows how to use the equipment better than the manufacturers themselves. Make sure that the manufacturer offers training on an ongoing basis to your technicians. Some suppliers have their own training facilities and will even offer training free of charge. Your technical managers should also attend training sessions and do random inspections on installations to keep the technicians in check.

In terms of price, how do I choose which supplier I want to use?

Transmitter prices are all very similar from the different suppliers. Rather pay a little more and be sure that your transmitters are going to give you many years of reliable service out in the field. The transmitters are going to be your main expense, so check if the prices include or exclude an antenna. Once you have equipment, it is difficult to change to another supplier if you are not happy. Choose a supplier based on the added value benefits they give you in the long run, like 24-hour backup service throughout the year, free training and free frequency management services, etc.

Do I really need backup equipment?

Backup equipment is essential for your repeaters and your base. It is worth the expense because you can simply replace faulty equipment with your backup units. Some suppliers have one unit which works as a repeater or a base station. This is great because you only need one unit as a backup for both. Do not skimp! Buy yourself peace of mind by spending a little extra.

Is it expensive and complicated to start up a network?

Choose your supplier carefully and you can be up and running in no time and at very little expense. Top-notch base stations and repeaters can go for under R2000 and the right company can have you set up really quickly.

How do I know which equipment is state-of-the-art?

Most suppliers will claim that they offer the latest technology. The trend, however, is towards making smaller, more efficient equipment. Open up one of the transmitters and check the general quality of the chassis and whether or not the transmitter is manufactured using SMT (surface mount technology). Surface mount components are tiny in size and can be mounted on both sides of the PC board, often hidden on the underside with a few bigger components on top. If there are many large components on the top of the board, SMT is not being used. SMT components are placed by sophisticated machines that do not make mistakes, while the older type components are placed by hand which is far less accurate.

Technology moves so quickly. How do I choose the equipment that will give me the longest serviceable life?

The key words here are 'upgrade path'. The better suppliers do not design any new equipment that is not compatible with the older equipment in the field and the older equipment is upgradeable to handle the latest features. Check the history of the company and make sure that even the oldest transmitters work on their newest network. You do not want to be left with obsolete equipment. Nobody wants to run into a dead end.

For more information contact Lee-Ann Andreka, RDC, 011 616 7685.

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