Combination Alarm Panels - Pros and Cons

By: Brian Rhodes, Published on Nov 27, 2012

Combination alarm panels sell the promise of doing more with less. Instead of multiple systems, a combo panel does everything in one box - intrusion, fire, access, video, etc. In this note, we review 'combo' systems, examine the pros and cons of an 'all-in-one' design, and recommend most suitable applications.

Combo Panels Defined

True to their name, these units combine several systems in an enclosure, sharing common PCB boards and a single controlling firmware. Combo panelstypically combine two or more of the following:

  • Intrusion (burglar) Alarms
  • Fire Detection (smoke/waterflow/heat) Alarms
  • Access Control
  • Video Surveillance: Some panels  integrate cameras into the panel for small-scale monitoring and recording
  • Building Management: Thermostats, lighting controls, and water leak detection are becoming common additions to multifunction systems.

These systems are typically for smaller deployments. With everything combined into one box, the total number of sensors is often capped and the management capabilities are limited to simple commands. The video clip below is a manufacturer's promotional video for a combo system, where all system devices (including fire/burglar/and access control) are run to a main control panel:

Centrally Monitored

Unlike enterprise and large scale alarm systems that are designed to be monitored on site by security staff or building management personnel, combo panels are primarily designed to be monitored offsite by a central monitoring station.

Because the monitoring is designed to be done off-site, administration and configuration of the system is done via keypad, control software run on a serially connected computer, or by remote web browser. The restrictions against on site management of the alarms further contributes against deployment in large scale applications.

Combo Panel System Examples

Most large alarm system manufacturers offer some type of combined system in a single enclosure. The most frequent pairings offered are Fire/Burglar Alarm panels, with a smaller subset offering Access Control integration. The newest functions, like video and building management features typically are partially hosted for storage and remote access.

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

Popular Systems include the following -

  • Ademco: Vista-128FBP Fire/Burg System [link no longer available]: Up to 128 points of control, and up to 8 doors of access control with VISTAKEY module. Distribution Price: ~$500 USD
  • Napco: GEMC-Combo255KT [link no longer available]: Up to 255 points of control, and up to 8 doors or access control with Gemini Access. Distribution Price: ~$700 USD
  • UTC/GE: Concord Express [link no longer available]: Up to 22 points of control (16 wireless), with no access control. Distribution Price: ~$180 USD
  • Bosch: D9412GV4-B Kit [link no longer available]: Up to 246 points of control, and up to 8 doors of access control integration. Dealer Pricing varies, but is in the sub $600 range [link no longer available].

Combo Advantages

Regardless of specific manufacturer, some general benefits of 'all-in-one' panels frequently cited are:

  • Cheaper: Combo systems are often less expensive to purchase and install than stand-alone systems. The cost of system hardware is lower due to shared processing, and the cost to install systems are lower with only one enclosure (or 'can') to hang.
  • Quicker: Because combo systems are oriented towards the small/medium market, they often can be 'pre-programmed' before install with a template program rather than 'scratch programmed' on site. Because the total population of devices and/or alarm zones is lower, installation takes less time and effort.
  • Reduced Cabling: Some combo systems can be wired using a 'common bus'; or a single wiring pathway from a group of sensors back to the main panel.

Combo Disadvantages

Until the 2007 update to NFPA 72, combo panel-based systems were subject to local approval by AHJ. Even now, while the code supports installation of multi-purpose systems, bias remains against their use. Use of Combo Panels in some municipalities may be a point of contention. While this can be easily addressed by sharing the revised code, some of the marked disadvantages of combo panels continue to be:

  • Less Reliable: The biggest knock on combo systems are the reduced reliability of the individual systems. When components in the panel fail, multiple systems are affected. Also, with the focus on low price, less robust electronic design and components are often used in a combo panels. Overall, the overall reliability of combo systems is less than commercial enterprise grade alarm systems.
  • Less Expandable: The total capacity of combo systems are often capped to a finite number of devices, and the ability to connect panels together is rudimentary or not possible. Exceeding the device limit means installing another (independent) alarm system - a step that may not be permissible by code or approved by the AHJ.
  • 'Universal' Installers Uncommon: Field technicians and installers that are skilled in the particularities of Intrusion, Fire, Access Control, and other combined systems is uncommon. Each type of system requires it's own body of knowledge on sensor placement, installation technique, and configuration. While a combo product may be easily purchased, obtaining competent installation may not be so easy to come by; especially not in the low-margin SMB market dominated by 'trunkslammer' alarm companies.

Recommendations

Based on our experience, small and simple systems will benefit from the cheaper cost of a combo system. For end users that do not need a high degree of situational awareness or manageability, a combo alarm system permits an economic consolidation of systems to one box. However, larger enterprise and self-monitoring users will need the scalability and management features of discrete systems.

Comments : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Dahua Intercom Tested on Feb 07, 2019
Video intercoms are a growing market with video surveillance manufacturers expanding into this niche. IPVM is continuing its series of video...
Camera Disruptor Wyze Enters Sensor / Security Market on Mar 28, 2019
Wyze, the company that has disrupted consumer IP cameras, combining American marketing and Chinese manufacturer, has just announced its expansion...
Proxy Access Control Tested on May 09, 2019
Silicon Valley Access Startup Proxy raised $13.6 Million in May 2019, focusing on mobile physical access control. Beyond the fund raising, Proxy...
Axis Door Station A8207-VE Tested on Aug 07, 2019
Axis newest door station, the A8207-VE, claims to deliver "video surveillance, two-way communication, and access control" in a single device. But...
ProdataKey (PDK) Access Company Profile on Aug 09, 2019
Utah based ProdataKey touts low cost cloud access, wireless controllers, and no dealer required national distribution availability. But how does...
ZK Teco Atlas Access Control Tested on Aug 20, 2019
Who needs access specialists? China-based ZKTeco claims its newest access panel 'makes it very easy for anyone to learn and install access control...
Commend ID5 Intercom Tested on Sep 12, 2019
Commend touts the new ID5 intercom as 'timelessly elegant' and the slim body, glass front touchscreen indeed looks better than common, but ugly,...
Aiphone Video Intercom Tested (IX Series 2) on Nov 05, 2019
Aiphone was one of integrator's favorite intercom manufacturers but how well do their products work? The company's newest offering, the IX Series 2...
Hidden Camera Detectors Tested on Nov 18, 2019
Hidden cameras are a growing problem as cameras become smaller, cheaper and easier to access. However, some companies claim to be able to detect...
Hikvision DS 2nd Gen Intercom Tested on Dec 12, 2019
With its newest IP intercom, Hikvision proclaims users can 'get full control over an entrance' regardless of where it is installed, home or office...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Breaking Into A Facility Using Canned Air Tested on Jan 28, 2020
Access control is supposed to make doors more secure, but a $5 can of compressed air may defeat it. With no special training, intruders can...
ROG Security - Cloud AI For Remote Monitoring on Jan 28, 2020
ROG Security is offering cloud-based AI analytics to remote guard companies, by touting having "nothing to install" to "add virtual guards." We...
Brivo Business Profile 2020 on Jan 27, 2020
Brivo has been doing cloud access for more than 20 years. Is the 2020s the decade that cloud access becomes the norm? CEO Steve Van Till recently...
Favorite VMS / NVR Manufacturers 2020 on Jan 27, 2020
In 2018, a new winner emerged and a former top choice declined. Now, there is a new #1, a new top 5 finisher and 2 major VMSes in decline. Our...
"Hikvision Football Arena" Lithuania Causes Controversy on Jan 24, 2020
Controversy has arisen in Lithuania over Hikvision becoming a soccer team's top sponsor and gaining naming rights to their arena, with one local MP...
Axis and Genetec Drop IFSEC 2020 on Jan 23, 2020
Two of the best-known video surveillance manufacturers are dropping IFSEC International 2020, joining Milestone who dropped IFSEC in 2019. The...
Multipoint Door Lock Tutorial on Jan 23, 2020
Despite widespread use, locked doors are notoriously weak at stopping entry, and thousands can be misspent on locks that leave doors quite...
Avigilon Shifts Cloud Strategy - Merges Blue and ACC on Jan 23, 2020
Avigilon is shifting its cloud strategy, phasing out its Blue web-managed surveillance platform as a stand-alone brand and merging it with its ACC...
Verkada Paying $100 For Referrals Just To Demo on Jan 22, 2020
Some companies pay for referrals when the referral becomes a customer. Verkada is taking it to the next level - paying $100 referrals fees simply...
Camera Analytics Shootout 2020 - Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Uniview, Vivotek on Jan 22, 2020
Analytics are hot again, thanks to a slew of AI-powered cameras, but whose analytics really work? And how do these new smart cameras compare to top...