Wired or wireless, the gap closes…..

web8One of the biggest debates around at the moment is installation costs, which seem to be rocketing. The solution being explored by many installers, as well as manufactures, is structured cabling, which has been in the wings, so to speak, for many years. However, this never seems to have taken off for some reason.  The idea being that pre-prepared cables are simply plugged into field devices, alleviating the need to secure wire into terminals.

One of the problems is the sheer number of pre-prepared cable lengths that would need to be made available, as stringent cable installation instructions are well documented in BS5839 and having, for instance, a 900 mm extra length to lose without securing it correctly might well lead to additional problems, such as moving a detector head slightly to accommodate the cabling….not ideal!

So, whilst the labour element would see a reduction, the increased cost in providing a plethora of sizes, as well as manufactures having to possibly manufacture two versions of every device, one standard and one with plug connections, the overall cost of equipment would see a substantial rise – perhaps then equaling the cost of a standard wired system.

However, another key contender is the wireless system, which has now come of age after many years of being seen as a specialist or engineered  solution to a problematic or challenging site in terms of cabling, rather than just a fire system. Reliability of wireless is no longer questioned after many years of having systems working and protecting property flawlessly. Working together with commercially established products from the likes of Apollo, wireless can no longer be ignored.

We are all now familiar with wireless routers at home and the use of Bluetooth technology. Granted these are not life safety systems, but attitudes have changed as technology has evolved. Whilst wireless equipment costs are higher, these are offset by the fast track installation times where installing a device, such as a call point or detector, is as simple as using two screws, which can be done in less than 15 minutes!

What does this mean for the installation, and more importantly the customer? A full system can be installed in days rather than weeks, with substantial time and cost savings when compared to a conventionally wired installation. It does not stop there as convenience, in terms of disruption, is hugely minimised. An installer on a ladder for 20 minutes, including the time it takes for health and safety procedures and checks versus losing an office for half a day makes a big difference to everyday business.

Couple this with the savings associated with carbon footprint, less engineers means less travel time, which means less road miles – for once, a real, measurable, green saving. The real costs however are not just installation and capital expenditure, as “cost of ownership” over a lifetime (typically 20 years) is what a system owner should evaluate. Things like replacement parts, planned maintenance routines and possibly system extensions or upgrade, all add to that cost.

One of the major criticisms aimed at wireless systems is battery replacement costs, but with newer technology in battery power and increasing life span these now last much longer than those used previously. The standards clearly state three years and even factoring in the cost of replacing every battery every three years, albeit that in reality this is more likely to be five to six years,  this equates to much the same as thoroughly testing cables during the lifetime of a traditionally wired system..

With life safety systems reliability and fast, accurate detection is ultimately what determines the difference between a good and indifferent system, possibly life and death, and with that in mind, does it really matter whether the systems has wires or not?