Open or Closed Protocol in Fire Systems: which is best?

Posted by Conor Logan on 18/10/16 13:30

Colt_OPV.jpgThe debate on the pros and cons of open or closed protocols in the fire alarm and smoke detection controls market has been ongoing for many years. What is it all about and why does this subject provoke so much discussion in our industry?

In very simple terms, ‘protocol’ is the phrase used to describe the language that components on a network use to communicate with the central control panel.

An ‘Open Protocol’ is one where a number of manufacturers use the same language and therefore their devices and control panels are effectively interchangeable.

A ‘Closed Protocol’ is a stand-alone system where the device manufacturer produces all the devices and control panels for the complete network and there is no compatibility with any other manufacturer’s components.

Is open protocol best?

Going back to the original question, ‘open or closed protocol, which is best?’ I think the answer is two-fold.


Open protocol is fine for the standard components, such as detectors, sensors and call points. This allows them to be readily inter-changeable should replacements be required or the system needs expanding in the future.

… and no:

However, the control programming of these systems can be highly complex with many different permutations depending on where the fire is detected. The control logic/cause and effect is usually specified by the system designer and should therefore be protected from being readily altered.

In other words even if the system is open protocol, the system cause and effect should be closed to prevent alteration by anyone other than a trained specialist.

Open or closed protocol – it’s a bit of both really.

Why this debate matters so much

Unfortunately, all too often when smoke control systems are purchased, insufficient attention seems to be paid to the specification of the control system, leaving the selection down to the individual contractor. This is not necessarily an issue when the contractor is a responsible specialist in the field with a proven track record and suitably qualified designers/support staff. However, it can very often become an area of potential disaster in the wrong hands.

Conor Logan Conor Logan is Associate Technical Director of Colt UK, Smoke and Climate Control Division. Conor designs innovative smoke control and HVAC systems and is also Chairman of the Smoke Control Association.

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Topics: Smoke Control, Smoke ventilation