Industry sounds off on AMPS

Friday, September 1, 2006

As February 2008 gets closer and the industry waits to see if the FCC will extend the Analog Mobile Phone Service sunset, some industry members have stopped using AMPS-based products, others express concern that there are not enough available Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) products, which provide multi-path communication options to make the conversion, and some struggle to find ways to explain to customers the reason for the switch out.
With these many unknowns, the dealer and installer community and manufacturers that offer AMP solutions are acting quickly to find ways to work with one another to find a solution.
The Alarm Industry Communication Committee's chairman Lou Fiore said the committee feels that both manufacturers and alarm companies lack the capacity to instantly change over to the GSM network, although alternative products do exist currently in the marketplace. The industry needs more time.
Despite the sunset clause date, however, some industry members predict that cellular service carriers will continue to provide AMPS service in some areas, like other technologies that were predicted to fall by the wayside.
"A lot of people think the FCC mandates the shut down. They really don't," said Gordon Hope, vice president of marketing and business development at Honeywell. "They just mandate that they have to keep it up for a certain amount of time."
However, Hope added, "We as manufacturers can't count on keeping the service up. And dealers probably have mixed reactions to this." He said that it is going to be interesting to see what cellular providers are going to do.
Fred Leonardo, president at Electronix Systems Central Station Alarms, has the same sentiment. "For all we know, there will be an extension," he said. Leonardo compares the issues with other cell phone technologies, which were predicted to become obsolete, but remain in use. "They didn't go away for years and they are still working. It is something we still aren't even sure of. We may be panicking, but we have to be prepared."
Fiore agreed that the industry has to be proactive. Earlier this year, Fiore along with many industry representatives went to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress to request their assistance in influencing the FCC to extend the analog-cellular sunset requirements.
The "first step is to know that it is going to happen," Fiore said. "[Alarm companies] shouldn't be installing any more AMPS devices," and they should "devise a plan to approach the customer." However, Fiore said that some companies already have a game plan to approach the customer.
Hope concurred: "We have been a big proponent that our dealers communicate and central stations communicate with their rate-paying customers by sending out mailers."
Others are still unsure how to meet customers' needs and provide the equipment. Dealer Barry Simmons of AlarmTeam, Garner, N.C., who responded to Security Systems News' September Newspoll (see page 54) about the issue, said that current stocking levels of the alternative products are not sufficient to adequately deal with the current volume.
However, Osvaldo Padilla of Metro Alarm & Security, in South Orange, N.J., added, "I believe that most dealers will have to absorb the cost involved in switching out the AMPS equipment if they want to keep the subscriber from canceling."
As more of the industry becomes affected by the AMPS sunset, many agree that they will have a solution shortly so the clause does not hinder business. Often consumers are not aware of the potential problem and think that alarm companies are orchestrating the change, but it's actually the cellular providers.
"We are not the problem," Leonardo said. "We are the solution. The FCC told the phone companies that they don't have to support the alarm companies anymore. We are not the bad guys, we have the solution."