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Wireless/Cellular Elevator Emergency Telephone Technology

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Applying European technology can simplify a convoluted process that often causes headaches in the U.S.

submitted by JSG Elevator Consultants

In terms of service to elevators, the number of existing telephone systems and platforms – including landlines – presents challenges to the U.S. elevator industry. At the same time, Europe has been quietly expanding cellular networks and identifying revenue-generating niche markets, such as phones for elevators and related applications.[1]

Cellular telephones have advanced with many new capabilities, including elevator-related ones. For example, iPhone and other smartphone technology has an array of features applicable to the elevator industry. According to product literature from Paris-based Association Nationale d’Entraide et de Prévoyance (ANEP), major OEMs in Europe have been experimenting with this technology and engineering new applications for it. It is expected that U.S. OEMs will follow suit, and that elevator-industry-specific hardware will be developed for suppliers and contractors. 

Most buildings’ elevator telephone systems have been cobbled together over the years, employing myriad methods just to place an emergency call to an answering service.

Most buildings’ elevator telephone systems have been cobbled together over the years, employing myriad methods just to place an emergency call to an answering service. Some systems use an auto-dialer. Others employ a “ring-down” line programmed by the phone company to dial a specific number whenever the elevator telephone receiver is lifted. Where does the telephone company’s part end and the elevator company’s begin? Suffice it to say, if an outside dial tone comes into the elevator’s machine room, that junction signifies the beginning of the elevator contractor’s part of telephone-line monitoring and the end of the telephone company’s duty, according to the Virginia State Corporation Commission.[2]

The elevator contractor attaches the line or dial-tone monitoring device to a specific line, then attaches the dial-tone monitoring device to any line-sharing device and/or directly to the two-way communication system. In terms of who gets the open line on the line-sharing device, it is first come, first served. In this instance, there is no prohibition against sharing party lines with other elevator subscribers.

On buildings taller than 100 ft., a prescribed method for the fire department to jack into the car directly shall be provided.[3] This type of hardwired connection can be between the line-sharing device and the individual subscribing car. However, the traditional hardwired system can also be supplemented by the emergency cellular telephone. In summary, it is a circuit connecting the telephone company line, dial-tone monitoring device, subscriber phone and/or line-sharing device that connects to the subscriber’s phone.

Analysis

More often than not, the elevator company is called upon by the owner and/or AHJ to perform the installation. When there is a problem, the contractor is also called upon to determine operation and condition of the telephone in the elevator. Today, emergency telephone service in most elevators is comprised of a fragile alliance of the following:

  • Elevator contractors
  • Telephone exchange equipment suppliers
  • Telephone equipment installers
  • Telephone equipment maintenance service companies
  • Telephone signal carriers
  • Telephone answering services

There is potential liability that comes with spending a lot of time and effort to solve a problem that, most likely, the elevator company never created and is often out of its control.

If anything goes wrong, the initial service request is usually passed along by the owner to the elevator contractor. If the faulty operation lies in any other domain, it is up to the elevator contractor to identify where that fault lies and coordinate proper action. Even more difficult is locating the correct party to accept responsibility. In the meantime, the manure gets piled on the elevator service contractor as the problem remains unsolved. It is no wonder, then, that panic frequently seizes an elevator company’s operations manager when he or she is asked to put a price on a telephone repair. There is potential liability that comes with spending a lot of time and effort to solve a problem that, most likely, the elevator company never created and is often out of its control.

A specific process must be carried out to properly resolve telephone problems. Each telephone at the site in question must be identified, and carrier billings must be reviewed to determine if the line is active and the account is current. If all of this checks out, the wiring from the building’s phone room to machine room must be verified for continuity and line voltage. This can be a very lengthy process, and in the end, a substantial labor charge is often generated by the contractor. Sometimes, this fee is absorbed without a final resolution to the problem. These kind of issues often herald the end of a good customer relationship.

Findings

Today’s wireless technologies offer the contractor better control of the variable factors associated with emergency telephone service, in turn increasing the likelihood of finding a successful solution. Frequently, the added benefits of the cellular system result in eliminating building wires and traveling-cable conductors dedicated to elevators. The cell phones can be used with a group elevator system to maintain multiple telephones that can be multiplexed onto one line for reduced line charges by the cellular network over a landline system. 

A gateway and antenna are used to relay and transmit signals to the cellular network, where reception is always at a maximum. In underground applications or weak signal areas, a repeater is used to amplify the signal. By reducing the number of control factors, the contractor will usually be able to offer the customer better overall telephone service, as well as line monitoring and simplified billing.

The elevator industry has truly grown into an international endeavor. More often, contributions are coming from engineers and technicians worldwide. ANEP has developed a cellular system that can replace the old hardwired telephone, perform all functions required by the new codes and then some. In approximately 3 hr., the average technician can install all components required to eliminate the old multifaction system and replace it with new cellular equipment capable of handling up to eight cars on each line. The system is easily adaptable and accommodates cellular, hardwired, even Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) configurations. Code issues such as periodic line checking have been implemented, and the phones “call home” at programmed intervals to verify the answering service and monitoring systems are working. 

Today’s wireless technologies offer the contractor better control of the variable factors associated with emergency telephone service, in turn increasing the likelihood of finding a successful solution.

In Europe, there are more than five million elevators, compared to more than one million in the U.S.[4] Forty-five percent of that base is over 20 years old. This translates to 125,000 new and refurbished elevators per year that need emergency telephone services. Cellular technology can significantly lower installation and connectivity costs.

Operation costs can be reduced even further by line and data monitoring using a professional contact center. The sophisticated software platform available to contractors allows managing diagnostics, as well as emergency calls received from these new cellular and alarm devices. The future of cellular technology looks bright for the U.S. elevator market. Additionally, different points on the elevator or escalator can be monitored to determine if the equipment is working properly, and accurately reporting status, faults and events. ANEP also provides monitoring software for the call center for complete recording of reports and related corrective actions.

All of this new technology is designed to provide the elevator contractor an opportunity to generate additional revenue.  Cellular systems give the contractor full control over the elevator emergency-communications system. When applied by the elevator contractor, this technology results in simplifying the customer’s workload and eliminating the tasks of tracking multiple billings from the telephone carrier, telephone service technician and answering service. All of this data can be captured and included in an elevator service contract.

Future market demands in the U.S. call for more extensive elevator monitoring to assist an elevator company’s technical staff in servicing the equipment. This can be done with minimum investment by documenting faults and events of existing elevator control systems. Plug-and-play transducers and module extensions can be placed on the bottom and top of the car to monitor select functions, such as safety circuit, door open and others, along with the added safety benefit of an emergency-call button, enabling a technician to report when he or she accesses the top-of-car or pit areas. These serial link modules may also be used in future applications to record acoustical profiles of components and, compared with established baselines, detect deterioration within the system.

ASME A17.1 does not speak directly to wireless technology for escalator applications. However, change is in the wind for code review, since added language is needed for escalators and moving walks. This basic language is already in place for elevators, and very little change would be needed to incorporate it into cellular systems for monitoring escalators.

Conclusion

We are at an interesting point in our technological history. For the first time since they were invented, traditional phones are falling by the wayside. The wireless revolution has made landlines all but obsolete. Even our business models are moving away from traditional phone lines to wireless VoIP or cellular options. Today, wireless phones do so many incredible things, while old-fashioned telephones merely make phone calls. Who needs them? It soon becomes obvious that even in elevators, cellular digital systems will be the new standard.

Many readers’ first response to the idea of a cell phone in an elevator cab may be to think it is a complicated idea. However, any challenge in using wireless/cellular technology in emergency telephones present is easily overcome. Considering all the functions of a smartphone, one cannot help but imagine how we might apply current technology in elevators to maximize efficiency, reliability and the effectiveness of communications.

References
[1] “Unraveling Emergency-Telephone Complexities,” by Adam Sykes, ELEVATOR WORLD, August 2013.
[2] Virginia Administrative Code, Chapter 401, “Rules Governing the Provision of Network Interface Devices.”
[3] ASME A17.1, Section 2.27.1 B1020.
[4] “High Standards: As Elevator Advance, So Do Their Safety Codes,” Mechanical Engineering, July 2013.
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