Wireless myths and misconceptions – Want to go cable free but unsure?

The red wire connectionWireless based fire and security has been around for some years and like many technologies there were some issues at the very early stages of development and deployment. Ray Puttock, Head of Marketing at EMS, looks at some of the misconceptions.

The rules that apply to technological development and the exponential rate that it advances illustrate that the 21st century will be equivalent to around 20,000 years of previous progress and advancement. Wireless based technology is now all around us. Who could imagine a world without mobile telephones and Wi-Fi? The Security Idustry has already widely embraced the power and flexibility of wireless.

It is now generally accepted that wireless fire technology provides exactly the same levels of operation and protection as an equivalent wired system, with many of the myths being dispelled over recent years.  Compliance with the European Standard EN54-25 ensures that manufacturers of wireless based systems meet, and in most cases exceed, the demanding benchmarks of this standard.

There are, however, still a few misconceptions surrounding wireless fire which need to be addressed and finally laid to rest. Issues such as reliability of the signal and interference are often at the top of the list, but a fully EN54-25 compliant system has to provide signal overhead levels to compensate for any attenuation or blocking and a survey before any installation will check for any possible interference. With a choice of channels to use within the agreed European 868MHz frequency, and this built-in overhead, signal loss or unreliability is just not an issue.

Some people ask about Wi-Fi interference but with OFCOM specifying and regulating radio frequencies used, there is absolutely no clash as the frequencies used for Wi-Fi and wireless fire systems are unrelated.

The need for a survey, which is a prerequisite of any fire system, wireless or wired, is all about the building and its structure. Walls can present issues for both technologies – containment for cables and signal for wireless – but each can be easily overcome. Signal strength readings will quickly confirm what equipment is needed, as no building is unsuitable for wireless, it is just a matter of specifying the right products to meet the specific requirements of each structure. Wireless has the added advantage that there is minuscule or no damage to the building fabric.

cieling mtd VADAnother question often asked is; Are wireless systems slower? The answer is simple; As with all fire systems this depends on the panel used, and in the case of a wired system, the length of the loop cabling and how far the signal has to travel. With wireless based systems this generally happens much faster. Third party approvals also ensure that regardless of cable, systems operate within the time constraints dictated within the standards.

When specifying a fire system the choice of manufacturer is of key importance along with reliability and consistency of product, support, reputation and, of course, value. Wireless system manufacturers, as experts in the fields of radio technology, usually work with industry partners who provide industry standard devices, commonly referred to as “open protocol”.

And this brings us to one of the easiest myths to dispel: Wireless technology is more expensive to fit because it is harder to install.

What could be easier to install that a detector, call point or sounder than that only needs two screws and no cable? It is unlikely that this would take more than 10 minutes even for a novice installer. Minimal Health and Safety issues, reduced time spent working at heights and less disruption are some of the additional benefits, as is the overall project timescale. Wireless systems can be programmed and tested off-site before any installation works commence, thus reducing on-site timescales with the added benefit of greatly reduced inconvenience and disruption to the customer’s business.

What about the overall cost of a system and the ongoing cost of ownership including maintenance? It is generally accepted that wireless equipment is more expensive, but then it does include sophisticated wireless technology. However, the much reduced installation time brings the overall cost, per point, down to a very comparable price, which in turn makes the overall cost of a system, including installation, almost indistinguishable. There are always variables such as size, complexity and access but in most circumstances there is very little in it.

Ongoing costs are often a talking point but with routine maintenance under BS5839 being the same, wireless or wired, the only other factor would be the additional cost of batteries. With the advances in battery life and wireless technology, these now last typically up to 5-7 years (EN54-25 states that this should be 3 years as a minimum) and with many systems using industry standard alkaline batteries, costs are minimal.

Compare this with wired installations which require essential wiring inspections and testing, as directed in the IEE Regulations (BS7671:2008), and the discussion about overall cost can become a short one. Wireless technology has now been embraced across many applications and in fire we see many more systems being installed.

This is not because of the more traditional reasons, such as historic properties or difficult installations, but simply because it’s easier and quicker and maintains business continuity. Couple this with the fact that many more of the “wired” manufactures are looking at a wireless or hybrid infrastructure as part of their overall solution, it is safe to say that wireless fire is now no longer a niche product.

Article can be also be read in Septembers Risk UK (Page 12):  http://www.risk-uk.com/advert_links/oli.htm or at the PSI website: http://www.psimagazine.co.uk/articledetail.php?artID=13