Why using landlines for your Fire Alarms is an outdated idea

Perhaps you’ve heard about the 3G Sunset Threat for pre-2018 fire alarm systems that have a wireless communicator. You might have even breathed a sigh of relief, thinking your hardwired system is safe since it is relying on landlines for its fire alarm communicator.

But hold on those high-fives – let’s get the backstory on landlines first:

The Backstory

About ten years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began the process of shifting its high-cost universal service program from legacy copper networks to next-generation broadband networks and IP-based voice services. This marked the beginning of the transition away from POTS (plain old telephone service) towards newer, digital technologies.

Simultaneously, recognizing that POTS connections would become unavailable and/or unreliable over time, the 2010 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code 72 (NFPA 72) was updated to include newer digital communications technologies such as Internet protocol, fiber optics, and cable. This meant these newer technologies, or the service providers that utilized these methods, could be used to establish communications channels if they complied with the requirements of NFPA 72.

Finally, three years ago, the FCC officially granted telecom providers permission to abandon outdated, degraded copper POTS lines. FCC Forbearance Order 19-72A1 effectively terminated any incentives/requirements to uphold a standard of traditional POTS connectivity.

The Present

Fast forward to the present and we see that analog lines are generally a thing of the past, phased out in favor of digital lines and wireless communications.

Still, if your landlined fire alarm system is operating, why mess with it? Two reasons: one stick, one carrot –

The Stick: Reliability (or the lack thereof)

  • There’s no one to call. As mentioned before, with the FCC Forbearance Order, if a copper wire goes down, your telecom provider can say they are “abandoned in place,” meaning there is no repair service available for it. And, with many copper wires in the ground for 70+ years, landline reliability may not be something you can count on indefinitely.
  • Cellular communication is more reliable than traditional phone lines since is it less likely to fail due to weather conditions.
  • Battery backup. Cellular communications require a battery backup, therefore power failures will not interfere with communications.
  • Regular testing. Cellular dialers are required to automatically test the connection every five – 60 minutes – unlike traditional units which are required to test once every 24 hours.

The Carrot: Cost Reduction

Generally speaking, moving to a wireless fire alarm communication system represents a savings over traditional landlines. Here’s a typical ROI example:

Landline Option

$50 per month per landline (note that landline fire systems require 2 landlines) plus $50 per month for fire alarm monitoring services*

2 Landlines x $50/month x 12 months = $1200/ year

1 $50/month monitoring x 12 months = $600 / year

Total Cost = $1800 / year per panel

Cellular Option

1 cell phone + monitoring @ $55/month x 12 months = Total Cost $660/ year per panel

Savings Opportunity

$1800 – $660 = $1140/ year savings per panel

* Based on standard industry pricing.

Looking Ahead

Moving your fire alarm system to cellular technology is not as complicated as you may think. It typically involves a simple addition of a Cellular Communicator to your existing panel, moving to a new monitoring service and then cancelling your legacy landline contract. Typically, panel upgrade can be completed in a few hours. All but the cancellation of POTS line service would be handled by your fire alarm installation company.

CM3 can help assess your ROI in moving from landlines to cellular communication for your fire alarm system. Please reach out for more information.