Pricing Pitfalls When Evaluating Perimeter Intrusion Detection Systems

By Alec Owen.

Accurately comparing and costing Perimeter Intrusion Detection Systems (PIDS) is complex.  There are many factors to be taken into account by customers, including selecting the most suitable technologies to use for the application, system performance, reliability, pre- and post-sales support, and of course the ‘real’ cost of delivering a cost-effective PIDS solution.  When evaluating the cost of the system, you need to look beyond the up-front price of the hardware and software which is only a part of the picture. You need to look at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) over the life of the product.

Total cost of ownership (TCO) is a financial estimate to help determine direct and indirect costs of a product or system.  It is a useful way of comparing different PIDS systems on an accurate financial basis over their expected working lives. TCO analysis should include the total cost of the PIDS acquisition (that is, hardware, software, installation and commissioning) plus the ongoing operating costs over its working life.

The true cost of a perimeter intrusion detection system is easy to underestimate. Manufacturers frequently quote just the cost per metre for the system, and this figure is often only the hardware cost; excluding the cost of installation, any associated infrastructure required to provide power to the field elements (sensor and controller), communications from the field elements back to the control room, mounting poles, security management systems, training or maintenance.

Suppliers tend to downplay these installation and commissioning costs, often citing best-case scenarios, so it is important to use a realistic ‘total installed price’ for your particular site as the basis for comparing perimeter intrusion detection systems. An attractive, low up-front purchase price can be far outweighed by the high costs associated with providing extra hardware, power, and a communications infrastructure. The cost of these infrastructures can be many times the price of the actual system itself, making the fully-installed PIDS solution prohibitively expensive.

Hardware And Software Costs

You need to be very clear when obtaining quotes as to what is required for a project. Understand what is, isn’t included and what extras will be required to deliver a working system. Some suppliers tend to quote a ‘bare-bones’ system in order to win projects on price alone. Quotes often don’t include items like monitors, cabinets, power supplies, special tools or equipment, operator interfaces, lightning protectors, cables, communications interfaces, and so on. To be fair though, sometimes suppliers can’t be blamed for this as they have been requested to simply provide their ‘best price’ for an 800m PIDS system with few details.

These ‘bare-bones’ PIDS systems often provide just a simple contact type of output – one contact per zone. The supplier assumes that you will be connecting this contact into an existing security management system. If you don’t have an existing security management system, then you will need to add this cost to the PIDS system, plus associated integration costs. You may also have to purchase additional tools to set up and calibrate the system. You need to factor these costs into the final TCO figure.

Installation And Infrastructure costs

This is an area where substantial cost overruns and project delays may be incurred. If you are using a series of single-zone controllers, then you will need to trench and install conduits to each of these controllers to provide communications back to the control room, and power to the controllers. If you are installing at an LNG terminal, for example, the field equipment may need to be intrinsically safe which means significant extra cost in mounting controllers or electronic field hardware within intrinsically safe cabinets, and so on.

If the perimeter is several kilometres long, connecting multiple controllers will add significant costs to the project. At a site like an airport, trenching to fences may not be allowed and, if it was, the costs would be prohibitive. On longer sites, just the cost of providing power to the remote fence-mounted controllers may involve high voltage power lines and step down transformers. One example is a 23km military site where the cost of providing power to the field-installed controllers would have been in excess of one million dollars – many times the cost of the PIDS system. So it is essential that these costs are clearly identified and quantified up front.


Perimeter security is about the deterrence, detection, assessment and delaying of the intrusion for a response to be initiated. Every application is unique in the type of facility to be protected, operating environment, perimeter fence construction, intrusion and security history as well as its perception of threats. The protection of the perimeters of these individual facilities also needs to be tailored to suit their unique and specific requirements. Site layouts, sensitive areas, facility buildings, the surrounding environment, activity in and surrounding the site, local weather conditions and topography are all factors to be considered when planning a perimeter intrusion detection system. These will influence the detection technologies selected and subsequent overall system performance.

There will always be a trade-off between price and performance. A system delivering prison levels of detection and nuisance alarms will always cost considerably more than a system designed to protect a container storage yard, for example. You cannot expect high levels of performance for a low cost. You need to match the system performance to the site characteristics and risk elements through the selection of an appropriate perimeter fence and intrusion detection system.

Operating Cost

Calculating the operational expenses should include additional and ongoing costs such as infrastructure (floor space), electricity (for related equipment, cooling, backup power), downtime, outage and failure expenses, training, security personnel and corporate management time.

As part of any intrusion detection system, there is a fixed cost associated with monitoring the system – whether it is by your own security staff, subcontracted staff, or by a security monitoring company. However, there will also be a real cost to respond to each alarm situation, regardless of whether it is a real intrusion event, a false event or nuisance alarm. So you need to understand how many nuisance alarms you can expect, the cost to respond, and how to minimise these.

Maintenance Costs

No system is completely maintenance-free, so take into account any regular or preventative maintenance requirements. Some require recalibration every season. Some require periodic testing, and some require batteries to be changed. You may also want to take advantage of any manufacturers’ performance improvements and upgrades.

Is there local support available? What will be the response times and associated costs if I have a problem? Is there a direct cost if the system is down, such as deploying additional security staff? What will be the future upgrade or scalability expenses? These all need to be factored into the ongoing costs.


Mean Time Between Failures, or MTBF, is a measure of the reliability of a product. In general terms, MTBF is calculated by taking the sum of total operating time for a group of installed systems and dividing by the number of failures for that group during the testing period. This is the most reliable and realistic method as it shows what the end-users themselves actually see and experience. Some manufacturers use an alternative method where they take the estimated reliability figures of each system component and extrapolate this into a theoretical system MTBF figure. In either case, the lower the MTBF figure, the more service calls you are going to need over the system’s lifetime to keep it running and so the higher the ongoing maintenance costs
will be.

Also, bear in mind that the more hardware you have installed, the more breakdowns you can expect and, therefore, a lower overall reliability. If, for example, you have a site protected with a single controller with an MTBF of 10,000 hours, then you can expect a failure every 13 months or so. However, if you have 15 of these controllers protecting a site, then you can expect 15 of these to fail every 13 months, or a failure every 28 days on average. Try to minimise the amount of hardware you install in order to maximise reliability and reduce maintenance costs.

When calculating MTBF, be aware that it needs to be for the entire PIDS system as a whole ,and not just for the individual components.

Life Expectancy

To understand how long the system will last before it needs replacing, you need to identify the realistic life expectancy of the system, how long the warranty period is and what is covered by any warranty extension program as well as any ongoing hardware and software upgrades available to enhance performance and extend the working life of the system.


Comparing the ‘real’ cost of delivering an effective PIDS solution over its total lifespan is not a simple task. So take the time to look beyond just the up-front price of the hardware and software, which is only a part of the picture. Take the time to examine, calculate and compare the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). n


Alec Owen is the International Client Manager for Future Fibre Technologies (FFT), the world leader in fibre optic intrusion detection systems. Alec has almost 20 years experience in advanced sensing technologies, and has recently published the 3rd edition of his resource book ‘The Boundaries of Security – Global Trends in Perimeter Security’ available to Security Solutions Magazine readers to download for free at: Alec can be contacted at:



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