Mesh Wireless: Ricochet

Wireless technology is an essential part of most modern solutions, and as a result end users are not requesting it, they expect it from any high-tech system. Wire-free connectivity is also enjoying something of a renaissance in the systems sector. With advances in the quality and performance of wireless systems, the demons of the past seem to be well and truly laid to rest … but are they? Not all wireless systems are the same, and Ricochet, which employs a mesh topology, is one that can be truly described as ‘secure’.

We are living in a wireless world. Whenever you consider common solutions for connectivity and communications, networking, computing, AV and home entertainment, remote control or countless other day-to-day activities, wireless systems are ubiquitous.

Wireless technology is not just desired, it is expected and at times it is a required element. End users have learned to trust wire-free systems and usually demand the option when investing in technology. Indeed, a lack of wireless connectivity is often seen as a negative point when considering the available solutions.

Where once wireless technology was something of a novelty, today it is an ever-present part of the technological landscape that affects most peoples’ lives. If wireless connectivity was suddenly removed from all technologies, most of us wouldn’t know what to do! The restrictions of a solely hardwired alternative would see commerce and industry grind to a halt. It would also see the general public fly into a state of panic.

Wireless technology encompasses end users’ business and home lives and has become a tool that they depend on. In business it is efficient and flexible. At home it is convenient and simple to use. What’s not to like about wireless connectivity?

More secure?

An issue often raised in the past was the reliability of wireless connectivity. Claims and counter-claims muddied the waters, and that did drive many away from the technology. In recent times, however, manufacturers have been quick to push variants which are claimed to be more secure.

The most basic wireless systems use one-way point-to-point communications. A detector or other field device transmits  data to the control panel when an incident occurs. This is the only communication link used by the system. If a message doesn’t get through, the panel has no way of knowing that an alarm event has been missed.

In modern security applications, a point-to-point one-way communicating wireless system simply should not be used. With such a system, if a detector or other device fails or loses connection with the control panel, there is no way of knowing what has occurred. The control panel simply will not receive a signal from the device. As it will not expect a signal until an incident occurs, the presumption is that no signal equates to no incident.

Another failing of point-to-point systems is one of effective range. This is restricted as each field device must communicate directly to the control panel. Range can be affected by a number of things. Quoted ranges often require ‘free air’ between the device and the control panel, and this is rarely the case in applications. Environmental conditions can reduce range, and changes to the site layout – even goods piled up in area for a short time – can impact on effective range.

To address the issues of one-way wireless systems, a number of manufacturers offer bi-directional wireless connectivity – sometimes referred to as ‘two-way radio’. However, be aware that the term two-way radio can be slightly misleading at times.

The fact that a system uses bi-directional radio does not guarantee that all field devices have two-way communication with the control panel.

There are security systems available where the manufacturer advertises the use of bi-directional wireless connectivity, but this only exists between a wireless keypad and the control panel. The field devices only use one-way communication.

Always seek confirmation of the extent of coverage for any bi-directional or two-way wireless system. This should include details of how the two-way communication is used. Some systems minimise even critical communications in order to preserve battery life. This can seriously impact on the quality of a system.

If you can’t obtain clear information about the nature of bi-directional wireless it is best to assume the worst and quickly walk away.

It also pays to remember that bi-directional and two-way wireless systems are still point-to-point options, and so suffer from the same issues with range as one-way point-to-point systems do. Range will still be dependent upon free air, it will still be affected by environmental issues, and some changes to site use and layout could render the system inoperable.

Because of the critical nature of smart systems, it is vital that wireless connectivity is robust and secure. Any system which does not have resilience and redundancy will always be prone to failure, as will any that cannot automatically adjust to ensure that there are always usable signalling routes.

Issues with range also need to be addressed, and there is a need to verify the state of the wireless connectivity at any time. Such a solution exists, using mesh-based wireless technology.

With a mesh-based system, all field devices are capable of communicating with each other as well as the control panel. This delivers the flexibility to reroute signals via other devices to ensure it will arrive at the control panel. An intelligent mesh-based wireless system can monitor itself and the connectivity of the devices, and if an issue is detected it can then reconfigure itself to find the best transmission paths based upon real-time information.

Given the continual monitoring, intelligent self-healing, redundancy and the elimination of range issues, mesh-based technology is the only wireless connectivity solution that can claim to be secure.

The Ricochet difference

Texecom has invested a lot of time and resources in looking at advanced uses of wireless technology. This ensures that the Ricochet platform genuinely delivers real-world benefits for smart solutions.

Ricochet is based upon a mesh topology, and signals can effectively ‘hop’ to the control panel via other field devices. This means that alarm signals and other data have multiple routes available to ensure consistent communications.

Do not be fazed by the implementation of a mesh-based system, because the technology is inherent in the product and therefore does not require any engineer configuration.

For those installing or using the system, the performance is seamless. However, by understanding the way in which the devices communicate does help to indicate how the system can be best deployed.

This is important, because Ricochet technology does not just make the system more robust and reliable, even in situations which are typically challenging for wireless performance. It additionally allows a more flexible design than is possible with other less advanced wireless systems.

A mesh topology is pretty much as it sounds. If you imagine a mesh, with a device at each intersection, that’s a good representation. Essentially every device can communicate with the other devices around it. Signals and other data are routed to and from the control panel via the mesh, ‘hopping’ from device to device.

If for any reason a communication link between two devices is obstructed or weak, the data is rerouted via neighbouring devices to ensure that it reaches its destination, in this case the control panel. This is very different to the point-to-point topology of traditional wireless systems, which by its very nature introduces many points of failure.

Such an explanation does tend to focus on creating a robust solution, thus ensuring that a communication loss does not affect overall system performance. However, the reality is that by applying a mesh topology to system design, Ricochet allows credible wireless protection to be deployed in places where traditional radio-based systems simply will not work.

For example, with a point-to-point system, an area with very thick walls or high levels of metalwork would not be suitable for a wireless installation. Field devices simply could not communicate with the control panel. The only option would be to install a hard-wired solution, or to fit a hard-wired wireless expander in the protected area. Neither solution realises the full benefits of wireless technology.

However, with a Ricochet-based system, if the devices could communicate with other field devices outside of the hostile environment, this could be used to allow signals to ‘hop’ to the control panel.

A flexible platform

Ricochet is not a product. It is a wireless platform that encompasses a wide variety of devices. Texecom’s Premier and Premier Elite range of control panels are compatible with Ricochet. There are also a number of Texecom products – detectors (including external, shock and smoke detectors), sounders, contacts and smart keys – which use Ricochet technology.

These are soon to be complemented by Ricochet enabled automation devices such as electrical back-boxes, plug sockets, heating and temperature controllers and more.

Texecom offers a number of wireless control panels which are equipped with Ricochet technology. Where hard-wired control panels are employed, then Ricochet technology can be added via expanders. This ensures that existing systems can also benefit from Ricochet’s flexibility; the technology is a bit like a performance boost enabling advanced connectivity.

Finally, Texecom’s Ricochet technology has been licensed by a number of other manufacturers, including Optex. This allows other specialised products to be added to a Ricochet-based system.

In summary

Whilst the concept of mesh-network technology might be enough to make some fear a complex and lengthy installation, the reality is very different. The process is as simple as most radio-based systems, but also includes a valuable tool that allows a visual assessment of the system’s performance characteristics.

Adding expanders – if required– is a simple task, and ‘Learning’ the devices to the system is also very easy. There is only a need to enter the mode to add devices, assign a zone number, press the Learn button or short the Learn pins and insert the device battery. The panel will confirm the process, and that’s it.

Once the devices have been ‘Learned’ on to the system, you can assess performance via the free Ricochet Monitor package.

This software can be installed on any PC or laptop connected to a system expander, and creates a visual representation of the system and communications paths.

Those who adopt the Ricochet platform will be rewarded with a solution that enhances the security and flexibility available when installing wireless systems.

Benchmark Smart Solutions
Benchmark Smart Solutions is dedicated to supporting those seeking innovative and bespoke value-added solutions for business and the home environment. Through real-world field trials it assesses the potential available from current technologies and integrated systems. Benchmark Smart Solutions is produced by the team at Benchmark magazine.