Improve Your Fire Alarm Monitoring with Radio Mesh Network Equipment
By Andrew Erickson
September 5, 2022
Fire alarm monitoring using electrical signals has existed for over a century. That originally was simple wires carrying electrical current, which still occurs today.
More recently, there has also been the introduction of modern IP networking technology and internet connectivity.
While wires and cables offer high reliability during normal times, they are subject to total failure if even one section of cable is damaged. When we're focusing on fire protection systems, that's obviously a potentially massive liability.
Every wire and cable in any wired system, no matter how modern the protocol, is a potential point of failure in a fire alarm system.
That's what makes radio technology so attractive.
What makes radio superior for fire protection systems?
As I described above, radio has the advantage of all wireless technologies: there are no electrical wires or data cables between devices. The only wire of any kind is the power for each radio (and some even have battery backup).
This eliminates a big vulnerability when a fire is spreading (or the building might be damage for any other reason).
As you probably know, likely from your troubles with modern Wi-Fi, radio communication is not without its difficulties.
Problems with radio networks
As we discuss mission-critical fire alarming that affects life safety, we absolutely need to talk about the difficulties associated with using radio for communications.
For all the risk of wire/cable failure with wired communications, at least they have relatively few problems with noise. A wire or cable provides a protected communication channel.
Radio, especially in a public spectrum, is subject to interference from a variety of sources. It's also common to have radios in a point-to-point configuration, where a single radio failure means that many devices lose connectivity.
So, how can we deal with the inherent problems of radios while gaining the valuable benefits?
Mesh radio network architecture offers the best of both worlds
A solution to the above problems is mobile ad hoc networks (mesh radio networks). Mesh networks work based on dynamic peer-to-peer communication.
This "mesh" architecture is named because it has aspects of both traditional "polling leg" structure and "home run" star topologies.
The network is able to reach farther from the central radio than one radio hop will allow, but it is also self-healing in the event of a node failure.
The self-healing property comes from the way that mesh nodes communicate with each other. Each node routinely updates the nearby neighboring nodes that it can "see". Data is transmitted to one or more of these nodes. In that way, the data is able to reach the core of the network.
This resilience is very important when a node fails. The other nodes can "pick up the slack" so that no other nodes have a connectivity loss.
Mesh radios "bolt on" nicely to existing fire alarm systems
As you know, real-time monitoring systems have usually evolved over years or decades. You don't usually have the luxury of building a new system from scratch.
It's your inherited duty to maintain your fire alarm monitoring with available technology - and without crushing your budget.
It's in this common scenario that wireless mesh networks (WMN) are so helpful. You're able to use the technology of today to maintain or expand your alarm monitoring system. You can patch some areas using modern radio technology, while still extracting value from the legacy elements of your network that are still performing.
What radio devices can you add to your fire alarm system?
Many different types of radio-equipped devices are commercially available to purchase and add to your fire alarm system. Some use mesh technology, while other don't use it because it's not necessary for certain applications.
Let's run down some of the radio devices you can use to improve and maintain your fire alarms.
Radio Boxes allow you to easily add manual alarm pull boxes
The Radio Box Family from Digitize are manual pull boxes that use radio for transmission. They also include battery backups so that transmission can still be made during power loss.
This technology represents just about the smallest move you can make from traditional fire alarms. We're not talking about complicated Wi-Fi networks here. We're simply using radio to transmit the same kind of simple binary (plus "wire failure") data that fire alarms have sent since the early 1900s.
That's a virtue in many installations, where the minimum required addition makes for the simplest install and the smallest overall purchase.
The "Mesh Data Network" provides Ethernet via wireless mesh
On the other end of its product spectrum, Digitize has what it calls its Mesh Data Network to provide the flexibility of modern Ethernet connectivity via a radio mesh network.
This system includes many of the mesh advantages I've talked about here. Every stationary and mobile node has constant access to every other node via a self-forming and self-healing network.
This Ethernet connectivity grants you a kind of "universal highway" of access points for public-safety data. You can route fire alarms, security status, public-address notifications, surveillance video, electronic door access control, voice communications, HVAC status, and more.
Imagine how this mesh network benefits even first responders and the people they serve. During a mobile response, first responders riding in a vehicle can use a laptop to view real-time data and video. This supports superior split-second decisions in the critical early moments of a fire or other major incident.
You can run this system yourself. You'll get the benefits of a IT system without the headaches of IT administrators.
Call a Digitize Engineer to review your options
No matter what you want to do with mesh networks, the Digitize Engineering department has the skills and experience that your project needs. Just tell us what you're trying to accomplish.
Once we're on the phone with you, we'll step through your project goals and warn you about common pitfalls we've seen before. That will put you well on your way to deciding on the equipment purchase that will get the job done within your budget.
Call Digitize now at 1-800-523-7232 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 16 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and...Read More