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Exclusive: All IP explained

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John Coleman, Head of Sales UK & Ireland at CSL, discusses the impact that the Nationwide Telephone Network upgrade to an enhanced IP service will have on the UK’s Fire sector

All IP: What is it?

The UK’s Communications Providers are in the process of upgrading their customers from the existing analogue phone service to an enhanced IP service, with the plan to migrate to a fully digital phone service (All IP) by the end of 2025. The change will affect anything that currently plugs into the existing analogue telephone wall sockets, including Fire signalling systems. End-users will receive a new Smart Router from their telephone service provider as part of the All IP project. They will be asked to plug this Router into the main wall socket, disconnecting anything currently connected, including the telephone and any alarm systems.

With 2025 being over 3 years away, why is All IP critical now?

Many installers will see the 2025 date and think they have plenty of time to upgrade their systems. The reality is, trials have been taking place since December 2020 and by September 2023, products reliant on PSTN will no longer be sold anywhere. That’s only 2 years away! Over the coming months, exchanges across the country will be upgraded to fibre, and analogue services will gradually become unavailable.

Approximately 3.4 million premises will be impacted by these upgrades. In June alone, 13 exchanges entered the ‘stop-sell’ phase, affecting 170,000 premises. The upgrades are taking place in ‘tranches’ with 379 exchanges now listed by Openreach – the UK’s digital network business – as being part of this process.

What has been the impact so far of the exchanges going into ‘stop-sell’?

The most common issue reported by Installers is that if an end-user coincidentally looks for a better deal on their phone or broadband with a different provider, they often don’t realise they are changing to an All IP service. As they are switched over, the fire alarm stops working as this now uses IP rather than PSTN, and they call their Installer.

When an area goes into the ‘stop-sell’ phase, broadband and telephone service providers will only offer IP services and products. So, if end-users purchase new phone/broadband services or switch providers for a better deal, they will be given a Smart Router which is not compatible with their fire alarm, if they have one.

Older signalling technologies such as Digital Communicators use DTMF tones across the PSTN infrastructure to send fire alarms, while the Smart Router uses data via IP. DTMF tones technology will not work over IP.  

Additionally, all residents in a planned upgrade area will receive a letter from their telephone line provider, informing them that the local exchange is being upgraded to All IP and that a Smart Router is on the way.

Installers must also consider that many Fire alarm systems are connected to, or signal via, the Intruder system. If this is upgraded, then the Fire alarm must be as well.

Are all Fire Alarms and signalling affected by the Smart Routers?

Any device that currently relies on a telephone line to send a signal to the Alarm Receiving Centre will be affected, whether they are single or dual-path. In some cases, there may be an option to rewire the signalling system to the new Smart Router, however, it’s disruptive and has an unreliable power source if the Router was switched off or rebooted. A big area of concern for Installers should be their Digital Communicators.

These are the oldest of the fire alarm equipment out there and with just a single PSTN path, the premises would be completely unprotected once the Smart Router is plugged in. Digital Communicators often make up a large proportion of the systems that installers have in their signalling bases. There are approximately 700,000 in the UK today, so upgrading them to a compatible alternative will take time. We would urge Installers to start planning their upgrade schedules now.

What can Installers do to prepare and keep their Fire Alarms working?

The only sensible option for preparing now is to plan an upgrade programme. If they take this proactive approach rather than waiting for a system to fail and swapping it out, it becomes a much more manageable and cost-effective process. Not to mention that their customers will stay much happier this way!

Installers will be carrying out planned maintenance visits either once or twice a year depending on the grade of the system. We would advise Installers to tie upgrades into these visits. As an industry, we have the option to complete these upgrades in the calm of 2021 and 2022 – or the chaos of 2023 and 2024! There is no doubt that the more systems we leave until 2023 onwards, the more issues we will face when trying to get them all upgraded in time. Additionally, we are likely to see systems fail with increased regularity over the next few years as the migration is ramped up.

We can help Installers plan these according to the scheduled exchange upgrades, we’ve created an ‘All IP Hub’ which includes a map of exchanges and the dates of these upgrades.

What are the options of products they can upgrade to?

At CSL we have a range of products suitable to upgrade any system out there that is affected by All IP. At the single-path end of the market, our DigiAir Pro Fire product is an SP3 graded, single-path signalling solution that utilises a 4G Radio path to signal a fire alarm. It comes with a standby SIM as a backup to safeguard your system. Both SIMs operate on an independent network from the other for total resilience.

For the dual-path end of the market, GradeShift Pro Fire is perfect for replacing dual-path systems that rely on a phone line for one path. GradeShift Pro Fire Radio/Radio is a DP2 graded solution that uses two active 4G WorldSIMs and each SIM operates on an independent network.

Both products are independently tested and certified to the prestigious EN54 standard for Fire Systems. More information can be found at our website: www.csl-group.com

Could I upgrade my Digital Communicator to a new IP or Wi-Fi system?

Yes, you could. However, this would have to be done simultaneously with the installation of the Smart Router. This will be very difficult for Installers to coordinate. Additionally, the panel will need to be hardwired into the new Smart Router – which could be in a different location at the property – for example, the Router in the living room and panel under the stairs. This adds another logistical challenge.

If the system is upgraded before the Smart Router, this may mean a system has to be reconfigured on-site, after this installation, as a new Wi-Fi password may be required. An IP or Wi-Fi system could be installed after the Smart Router is installed, but the system is likely to already have gone into fail.

The best suggestion is to use a Radio only system, which works on an independent network that is not impacted by any changes to the Smart Router. It also avoids any issues during a power cut, which IP and Wi-Fi systems will be impacted by.

How can I add more value to the end-user as part of my upgrade?

Digital Communicators are cost-effective, having been installed a long time ago! Newer systems offer end-user apps, transforming the legacy system into a smart system – without having to change the panel. As part of our upgrade programme, we are showing Installers how they can market these additional benefits to their customers, to encourage them to opt-in for an upgrade.