30 Apr 2018
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Most people these days are using cellular communicators for their alarm systems because landlines are becoming a thing of the past in this age of cellular and internet communications. If you were planning on having an security system that will call out for either central station monitoring or self-monitoring where the system will notify you then a cellular communicator might be the best option if you don’t have a landline to use. Some cellular communicators are made strictly for sending the signal to a central station monitoring service such as the DSC 3G2060RUSA. Others can be used for self-monitoring such as the Alula / IPDatatel BAT IP/CDMA. Whichever style you choose you'll want to get one that will work optimally in your area. We'll be covering cellular communicators used for hardwired alarm systems in this article.
Most people worry about what type of communicator they must get to work effectively in the area that it is being installed in. A good rule of thumb is to pick a communicator that uses a carrier network that is already providing great service coverage in your area. If AT&T, for example, provides better service in your area than Verizon then you’ll want to choose a communicator that operates on that network and vice versa. You can actually look online at cellular service coverage maps to garner an idea of what network to use as well. Most cellular coverage maps have listings for 2G, 3G, 4G networks and some even narrow it down to voice and data channels. Most cellular coverage maps will list all of the major network providers and you can choose, by selection, which one you want to view. A very popular site to use for coverage maps is OpenSignal. This is a great tool for those trying to find out what networks provide the best service in the area.
Another worry most people have is will they have good signal strength in the area that the communicator will be installed in. A cellular communicator must have at least two bars of signal strength for it to be able to consistently send the signal to whatever service you're using whether it be central station monitoring or a self-monitoring service such as the Alarm.com Interactive Services or the cellular devices supplied by Alula (formerly IPDatatel). If you have lower than two bars on signal strength then the communicator may send signals intermittently or it may not send the signals at all. So you'll want to make sure your signal strength is up to par when hooking up your cellular radio.
Signal strength is the main concern because a lot of dealers you would buy the cellular communicators from have policies that the units are not returnable if they have been activated. This is not something that should worry most people though as you can read the cellular signal strength of these communicators before they have even been activated. All cellular communicators will have status LEDs on them that will allow you to measure not only signal strength but trouble conditions as well. Some units have separate LEDs for signal strength and status / troubleshooting and on some these LEDs are combined.
When you first wire the alarm communicator into the control panel you're using it with it will power up and begin flashing a sequence of lights on the onboard LEDs. These first series of light flashes are the unit checking the network to see if it's activated. Those lights will eventually give way to the signal strength lights. Most communicators will have a number of LEDs that will match signal strength bars like you'd see on a cellular phone. Like we mentioned above, most communicators will need a readout of two or more bars to be able to send sufficient signals.
Most folks will get good reception if they just install the communicator in the same area as the main panel is located, but for those that don't, there is a way to check to see where in the building would be a good place to mount the communicator. Most people are unaware of this method, but what can be done is to temporarily hook the power wires for the cell communicator to the system's backup battery. This will provide the communicator power by just hooking the positive and negative wires up to the communicator.
What can be done now with the power wires hooked to the battery is to walk the communicator around the building until you find a spot where the signal strength indicates that it is the best spot for good reception. You can do this with just about any cellular communicator made to work with 12V alarm systems. Not a lot of people are aware that this can be done.
Once you've found a spot you're then left with two options. You can either run a wire from the panel to the new spot where you'll be mounting the communicator or you can look into getting an antenna extension for the communicator so you can install the communicator near the panel and then run the antenna extension out to the spot where you garnered a good signal.
Most cellular communicators used for hardwired alarm systems use standard 22 gauge alarm wire to connect to alarm systems. Some connect directly to the main panel via either the keybus terminals or through a dialer capture hookup through the tip and ring terminals. For most runs, the 22 gauge wire will work just fine, but if you need to go a greater distance then a thicker gauge might be required. Other cellular communicators like the ones used with the DSC NEO system wire into a daughterboard such as the PCL-422 and then the PCL-422 wires into the main panel. so these are not a direct-to-the-board hookup, but the same still holds true. You can run a wire run from the daughterboard to the new spot you've located for the cellular communicator.
The other option that you can utilize if you're not getting a good signal where your cellular communicator is located is to buy an antenna extension for the cellular communicator. For example, the DSC cellular communicators have antenna extensions that come in three different lengths. The DSC GS15ANTQ is a 15-foot antenna extension, the DSC GS25ANTQ is a 25-foot antenna extension, and the DSC GS50ANTQ is a 50-foot antenna extension. Any of these can be added to DSC cellular communicators to give you a better signal. Other manufacturers have their own versions of these and you can find out the part numbers and pricing for these by asking your security equipment dealer. Some manufacturers offer high dB gain antennas as well that will boost the signal even further. Be sure to inquire about these if that's something you'd be interested in.
In conclusion, if you're in the market for a cellular communicator and you're worried that you'll have to activate the cellular communicator before you can gauge what the signal strength will be then hopefully this article eased your mind. There are ways of testing the signal strength before you even activate the communicator. There are also ways to improve or boost the signal by getting various antenna extensions or high dB gain antennas.