19 Sep 2017

How Cellular Technology is Transforming Home Security

How Cellular Technology is Transforming Home Security

A nice house

The residential security and hybrid home automation market is currently in a state of transformation, as conventional anti-intrusion technologies are giving way to a new generation of advanced smart home ecosystems. ABI predicts a growth rate of almost 500 percent in this emerging market between 2016 and 2020.

As traditional phone lines have declined in recent years, many of these new ecosystems are now being directly supported by cellular and IP networks that avoid publicly switched telephone network (PSTN) infrastructure.

Globally, 2G and 3G cellular technologies are commonly used for many smart home security applications as they provide strong coverage as well as voice support and sufficient data speeds. Newer alarm systems are transitioning to 4G cellular networks driven by LTE technologies.

In some countries, like the U.S. and Japan, LTE Category 1 stands a good chance of serving as a key technology for next-generation alarm systems due to its broad commercial availability and ability to support both audio and video.

LTE Category M1 will likely be the cellular technology with the highest potential to serve future mainstream and entry-level alarm systems offering commercial availability. This will most likely occur in 2H18. Standalone building automation sensors that do not need to connect to local gateways will rely on NB-IoT.

Why Use Cellular Connectivity?

Cellular networks provide greater control and mobility over connected security systems, allowing customers to move their endpoints from location to location with minimal cost and effort. These systems are highly portable, and are designed for self-installation and self-monitoring.

Device costs have also fallen in recent years making them more appealing to consumers. This technology is currently in high demand.

Cellular connectivity also offers fast and reliable service, and greater protection from unexpected network outages. Since cellular-based systems avoid the PSTN, they can remain up and running even during local service interruptions.

Let’s take a closer look at how cellular technology is improving the connected home experience for customers — making home security and automation systems more flexible and convenient, while also creating new revenue streams for service providers. 

It’s All About SMS

One of the reasons why service providers — particularly alarm dealers and security companies — are embracing cellular connectivity is because it supports short messaging service (SMS) based data transmissions, or text messages.

SMS is one of the easiest and most effective ways to alert users about pending security issues.  SMS notifications are highly effective because they are almost always opened and read. Research shows that SMS has a 98 percent open rate. And 90 percent of SMS texts are read within three seconds. Emails messages have an open rate of just 20 to 30 percent.

Improved communication, however, isn’t the only thing that SMS brings to the table.

This technology can also be used to toggle remote command and control functions on system alarm panels. And it can be used to program, activate and monitor services from central monitoring stations — thereby reducing maintenance costs and truck rollouts for providers delivering connected services to homes.

Challenges You Will Face

While cellular communication is much more resilient and user-friendly than traditional telephone-based security systems, there are still some operational challenges that you will run into.

If you decide to implement an SMS notification system, for instance, you will have to provide failover to protect against threats like power outages and device tampering — both of which can sever communications between residences alarm receiving centers (ARCs), law enforcement agencies and users.

u-blox is working to address this issue. We recently introduced an innovative new feature into our cellular modules to improve resilience and eliminate network interruptions in connected systems.

The solution, “Last Gasp,” allows u-blox’s cellular module to send an SMS notification or transmit a small data packet over IP for continued connectivity during a service outage.

Thanks to the adoption of cellular technology alarm panels can also be configured to run self-test reports in order to automatically detect network errors. Should a panel fail to respond during a network performance test, support and security teams can be instantly notified so that immediate action can be taken. These tests, sometimes referred to as “supervised heartbeats,” are typically run at timed intervals. Most tests run about once every five minutes, and around the clock.

For security service providers and dealers, this presents an opportunity for increased revenue streams. Supervised communication services, for instance, can be offered at premium rates.

Is Cellular Communication Secure?

As u-blox explains in a new upcoming whitepaper entitled “Innovation Trends in Cellular Connectivity for Alarm Panels”, most legacy wireless communications systems were not capable of properly encrypting and authenticating network signals. As such, they were vulnerable to intrusion. A criminal could, for instance, intercept data transmissions between a home security system and a gateway using unlicensed radio technology.

Conversely, modern cellular communications systems are better equipped to deal with the types of sophisticated attacks that criminals are using today.

Here are some of examples of the security features these systems are utilizing:

Encryption: When plaintext data is encrypted, it is rendered unreadable to anyone without a specific code. Encryption is a fundamental security necessity for any type of sensitive data transmission flowing in or out of a connected home. 128-bit AES encryption is achieved by supporting Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) cryptographic protocols. Encryption is necessary over both short and long range networks.

It is vital to encrypt every communication between a facility’s sensors and alarm units, in order to ensure privacy and data integrity. Further, all communication to local and remote servers must be authenticated and signed.

Authentication: Further action can be taken to thwart intruders by incorporating strong authentication technologies into the framework of an endpoint. For instance, it’s possible using cellular communication to put a live host in an alarm panel, in order to prevent unauthorized individuals from bypassing security protocols.

Security experts recommend using more than one identity verification technology. This is to bolster security, and improve the user experience by providing security options. Examples include passwords, PINs and biometric security technologies like fingerprint, voice, iris and facial scanners.

Jamming Detection: Criminals can overpower security communications by identifying a device’s wireless frequency, and “jamming” its signal. A jamming detection service can resist external attacks.

Security features will vary depending on the type of connected system you are using, and of course the vendor. When shopping for a solution, it’s also necessary to take into account things like the company’s data privacy and system maintenance policies, as well as their overall cybersecurity strategy.

Firmware Over The Air (FOTA): Connected endpoints must be able to defend against viruses and malicious attacks over time. Periodic firmware updates are therefore needed to patch system vulnerabilities before they are exploited by hackers.  

Deploying engineers for on-site firmware updates can be expensive and time-consuming, though, and so many systems are now being equipped with FOTA technology which enables easy, over-the-air device management and firmware updates. FOTA is being used extensively in mobile phones, and is now proliferating across cellular machine-to-machine (M2M) networks.

Join u-blox for an upcoming webinar

Want to learn more about using cellular connectivity to support home security and hybrid home automation? u-blox will be hosting an upcoming webinar on September 28.

Webinar information:

Selecting Cellular Connectivity for Alarm Panels & Building Automation

Thursday, September 28, 2017
11:00am ET/ 8:00am PT/ 4:00pm UK


Diego Grassi

Senior Manager Application Marketing, Industrial Market Development, u-blox

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