Keep Your IP Examined

Author: Brian Rhodes, Published on Nov 08, 2012

Moving intrusion alarms to IP has not been without challenges. The downside for many installers is they lose the ability to switch monitoring companies without costly field changes. However, a new company named "Keep Your IP" is taking an old concept for alarm companies - phone number portability - and is selling a service to make it possible with IP alarm systems. In this note, we examine the offering and analyze its value proposition.

Monitoring Companies: Backing Installers into a Corner

Most intrusion and fire alarm systems are monitored by a 3rd party central station. After the system is commissioned, a monitoring company receives notifications from the system and dispatches response. In most cases, the monitoring company is the one actually making the call to police and fire departments. Every alarm system that is monitored by one of the companies must have a phone number programmed into its panel, so that it 'knows' where to send alarm notifications. That number (or numbers) is programmed during the installation at the customer's premise.

Since this is required, making changes to these numbers is potentially very costly and can mean travelling to thousands of locations. The net result: even if a monitoring company does a poor job or raises its monitoring fees to an installing dealer, changing over all the alarm panels to a better option can be a significant cost. Installers can find themselves locked into a monitoring company for logistical reasons, not good service.

Analog Solution: Toll Free Numbers

One strategy to sidestep being 'landlocked' in this way by monitoring companies, installers often purchase their own toll-free numbers and program all panels to dial that number for monitoring. Since toll-free numbers can be purchased by private entities and ported to any phone number, the installer gains the ability to change where the number is ported at any time. If a monitoring company does a poor job, the installer simply find a new company and changes where their toll-free number transfers.

An IP Problem

Keep Your IP aims to provide the equivalent of toll free numbers for IP systems. Instead of hard-coding a monitoring company's IP into every panel, Keep Your IP wants to sell you an IP address that can be redirected as needed.

By being the 'middleman', Keep Your IP allows an installers alarm panels to be programmed with an IP that the installers 'owns' and has free reign to redirect. The image below shows where Keep Your IP fits into alarm call paths:

keep your ip overview

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Keep Your IP sells you rights to use an IP address for ~$20 per month. This cost is per IP address - and thousands of alarm panels can be programmed to use the same IP address. However, each type of alarm system requires its own IP address - Honeywell/Ademco requires a different IP from a DSC system, for example. In addition, often each panel is programmed with 2 different IPs - a 'primary' and 'backup' one.

The company says that most installers buy between 4 to 8 sets of numbers system wide (including primary and backup), so the average cost of 'Keep Your IP' to installers is between $160 and $320 per month.

Do It Yourself?

From what we understand of their service, doing this yourself is possible for the technically inclined. One can buy static IP addresses from a hosting provider or ISP, run a shared Linux host and use that to do IP forwarding/routing between the IP addresses you own and the ones for your monitoring company. You will need to have someone with solid IT admin skills and you will still pay ~$5 per month for each IP address as well as a small fee for hosting a linux VM. Instead of $160 to $320 per month, DIY may only cost $100 or less per month.

What to do?

It is a good idea to avoid entering the monitoring company's IP address directly into one's panels as the cost to switch can be severe and the price to avoid this problem is modest.

The bigger question is whether one should do it themselves or use a service like Keep Your IP. Since it is only a modest premium over the direct cost of DIY and since many alarm dealers are uncomfortable with IT, Keep Your IP may be the best option for those who want the comfort of a service provider to avoid any issues and handle any headaches in setting up forwarding. However, if one wants to control their setup directly and has the skills, doing it oneself may work better.

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