•  Some alarming exceptions


    There are some notable exceptions, where you cannot just plug your VoIP adapter into any jack. The most common of these situations is when you have a home alarm system, personal medical alert or personal emergency response system, or other specialized security equipment connected to your telephone wiring. In some cases, such as with most home alarms, the security device will simply not function properly (your inside phone jacks will work, but your alarm system will be unable to dial out). However, with other types of devices, such as certain types of driveway intercom/gate controllers, you could actually damage both your VoIP adapter and your security equipment by simply plugging your VoIP adapter into any jack, because both the VoIP adapter and the security equipment are capable of producing line and/or ringing voltage, and they may be hooked up in opposite polarities — definitely NOT a good situation! In such cases, you must connect your VoIP adapter to your inside telephone wiring before it reaches the alarm or security equipment, in the same manner as the traditional phone line was previously connected.


    Occasionally we'll get an e-mail from someone that reads something like this: "I unplugged my line at the network interface box, and then I plugged my VoIP adapter into one of the jacks inside the house, and everything seems to work, including the alarm! So that means I don't have to do anything else, right?" Well, sorry, but the only reason everything appeared to work is because the writer of the e-mail didn't test it properly. The thing to do is to take a phone off the hook and leave it off for at least one minute (if you still hear dial tone, press the # key on the phone to make it stop, but leave the phone off the hook while you make the following test). THEN test the alarm to see if it can "phone home." If your VoIP adapter is connected to the line properly, the alarm will still be able to make its call (assuming it's capable of working with your VoIP service in the first place), even with the phone off-hook. If it can't make the connection (and in the situation described here, it shouldn't be able to), then no, you really can't just plug your VoIP adapter into the nearest jack without doing any rewiring - not if you want your alarm system to work as intended, that is.


    Many home alarms are wired using a RJ31X jack (an 8-pin modular jack, usually located close to one of the alarm's components. RJ31X is the designation for this jack in the United States; in Canada it's known by the designation CA38A, but we will refer to it as a RJ31X jack here), and there is a single pair of wires that connects the RJ31X jack to the Network Interface Box outside. If that is your situation, you could disconnect that wire pair coming from the Network Interface Box at the RJ31X jack, and substitute a connection to your VoIP adapter, as shown in the graphic (note that RJ31X jacks may vary in design by manufacturer, so it's remotely possible that the proper screw terminals may not be in the same position as shown on the graphic). If the screw terminals or punch-down connections in the RJ31X jack are numbered, the pair in question is usually on connectors 4 and 5. Do NOT plug your VoIP adapter into the RJ31X jack! You must make a wire connection to the terminals inside the jack. For additional information on RJ31X jack wiring, including an explanation of how the RJ31X works and why it is used, we suggest you visit the page at HomeTech Solutions entitled How Do I ... Wire an RJ31X Jack?


    However, before you make any modifications to your inside wiring, there is something you need to know about using an alarm system with VoIP, and that is that some systems will work just fine with VoIP, some won't work at all, and some can be made to work if the alarm company will change the method that the alarm unit uses to communicate with the monitoring center. In addition, if your VoIP provider doesn't allow seven digit dialing for local calls, there is an outside chance that you may have to have your alarm reprogrammed to dial a full eleven digits, that is, to dial a "1" plus area code in front of the number it presently dials (however, this is often not a problem, because many alarms dial a toll-free number that is already eleven digits). And there may even be a few alarm units still out there somewhere that still use the old-style rotary dial pulses to dial out, rather than touch tones, and such units will not work with VoIP unless they can be reprogrammed to dial out using touch tones.


    If you are going to switch your telephone service to VoIP, why not switch your alarm company to one that is specifically designed to work over your broadband Internet connection? We suggest you take a look at Alarm Broadband Network (ABN) by NextAlarm.com, which is specifically designed to use your broadband connection for monitoring — here is some additional information from Tom Keating's VoIP Blog. Some VoIP users have found it much easier to just switch to NextAlarm rather than fight with an uncooperative alarm company that refuses to even attempt to accommodate VoIP users. In addition, it's been reported that NextAlarm offers their monitoring service at a very reasonable price. If personal alarm service (such as a medical care alert, usually worn around the neck or wrist) is what you need, Valued Relationships Inc. (VRI) has introduced a product called "DIGICARE" (DIGI for short). which is advertised as being a VOIP compatible unit.


    Please bear in mind that any alarm system that relies solely on your broadband connection for monitoring purposes (whether via a direct IP connection or via a VoIP service) is only as reliable as your broadband service — if your broadband connection (or your VoIP service, if using VoIP) goes down, your system will not be monitored for the duration of the outage.


    For those that wish to attempt to make their present alarm system work, one possible option may be to use the services of a company called AlarmPath — according to their site, "AlarmPath provides the wireless path that keeps alarm information flowing to the monitoring station even if the telephone lines are cut by burglars, temporarily out of service, or nonexistent." Beyond that, we urge you to contact your alarm company for advice and assistance. You should know that VoIP users have reported that it is best to have the alarm set to use the 4+2 and/or SIA format, NOT "Contact ID" (if your alarm company refuses to use anything but "Contact ID" and it won't work with your VoIP service, we suggest you consider finding a different alarm company that actually values you as a customer — obviously, not all alarm companies are so rigid). Also, be sure to test your alarm system to make sure it's working properly after making any changes to the wiring.


    This diagram may be helpful to those of you that grasp the basics of telephone wiring. It shows one possible method of hooking up a VoIP adapter to an existing alarm system, and is intended to illustrate a concept, not to be a schematic diagram. The older "quad" color codes are used because they show up better in a small diagram like this (and are also a lot easier to draw!). The idea is that wherever you want to put your VoIP adapter, you rewire the phone jack at that location to utilize an otherwise unused pair (in this case the yellow and black pair) to carry the signal from the VoIP adapter back to the Network Interface Unit. Very likely there will already be a wire coming from the alarm system (the RJ31X jack) with two pairs, one of which feeds the phone jacks inside the home from the alarm (the red and green pair in this diagram), and the other which carries dial tone to the alarm (the yellow and black pair in this diagram). So what is happening here is that the yellow and black pair is carrying dial tone from the VoIP adapter to the alarm, and the red and green pair is carrying the dial tone from the alarm to the rest of the house. Your color codes may not be the same (and you will have to pay careful attention to which colors are associated with the line in, and which are used for the line out at the RJ31X jack) but again, this is just to illustrate the concept of sending dial tone from the VoIP adapter on an unused pair to the Network interface unit, then from there to the alarm, then from the alarm back to the network interface unit (on a different pair), and then to the rest of the jacks in the house. The advantage of doing it this way is that you will probably be able to use cable pairs in existing wiring, and may not have to run any new wiring at all. The essential thing here is to be absolutely sure that the dial tone from your VoIP adapter is connected to the same terminals on the RJ31X jack where the dial tone from the phone company originally came into the jack.

    One other thing to note: Some VoIP providers offer a "bandwidth saver" feature. If you make any changes to this feature (selecting higher, or especially lower bandwidth usage), it might affect the ability of your alarm system to communicate, so be sure to retest your alarm system's ability to "phone home" if you change the bandwidth usage. In most cases, you should get best results if you use the highest bandwidth setting (that is, the "bandwidth saver" disabled), but other settings may work as well, depending on the coding scheme your alarm uses. If your VoIP provider gives you a choice of "codecs", use G711, not G723, G726 or G729. With some VoIP adapters, it's possible to force the use of a better codec by adding an adapter-specific string to the dialed number — that is discussed in more detail in the next section.


    Added notes for users of alarm systems (particularly ADT systems): In this BroadbandReports.com thread, a message was posted that stated, "I work for an alarm company as a service tech, ..... I have my alarm communicate in 10pps 1400Hz, with a 4X2 reporting format. This slows down the communication a little so that everyone (your alarm and ADT's receivers) can understand. Under normal situations you can just change your reporting format to 'slow it down' a little." "..... if ADT installed the alarm panel then it is an Ademco alarm panel that Ademco made for ADT in order to make it proprietary. This causes a problem because they will only 'talk' to ADT's receivers in a format called Contact ID (CID). When the alarm panel communicates in CID it is communicating at 2300Hz and is a faster communication (higher baud rate)" [which can cause the alarm panel to redial several times and possibly indicate a failed connection]. This person suggest that if you have the Ademco panel you call ADT to see if it is one of the proprietary models that can ONLY communicate using "Contact ID" and if so, ask them to replace it with a non-proprietary model capable of transmitting data in other formats. Or, that you look into getting a system with Cell Backup, "not a true cell backup but one that works off of cellemetry (this is the billing section of the cellular service) a really good one is made by Telgard." Or, radio backup through ADT or another company. Another person (in the same message thread) posted that "I tried ContactID on my system and there was too much echo in the line for the DTMF to transmit correctly. I was able to change the format over to SIA (generally acknowledged to be the more robust format) and it worked no problem. SIA is a "FSK" format (i.e. modem bursts). To the best of my knowledge, ADEMCO systems cannot [transmit] in SIA." There is further discussion of this in this thread at BroadbandReports.com.


    Another thread discussing this subject contains a message that also states that the best formats for use with VoIP, assuming you can't get a direct broadband connection to the alarm panel, are 4+2 slow format, followed by SIA, followed by Contact ID (which the writer of the message considers a poor alternative).

    Finally, in this thread at BroadbandReports.com, there is a report that ADT is saying that "VoIP isn't suitable for use as an alarm data transmission medium. ..... Until such time that a reliable residential IP method is determined, ADT doesn't authorize or permit the use of the internet and/or VoIP for residential." In that thread, some users have pointed out that there are alternatives to ADT, that do seem to work with VoIP (for example, one person specifically mentions that he installed a Concord system and uses NextAlarm.com for monitoring, and he states that this works flawlessly, and now NextAlarm has introduced the Alarm Broadband Network (ABN) as mentioned above). There are some more discussions of this subject here, here, here, here, and here that delve into this further, and suggest some additional alternatives. Please note that we have not verified any of this information.