Monitoring takes Internet route
Internet alarm monitoring expected to ride wave of broadband growth
With an anticipated 5.6 mil-lion residential DSL subscribers in 2002 and a forecast for nearly four million broadband business lines in North America by 2004, it's little wonder the alarm monitoring industry has turned its attention to Internet usage.
Both Radionics of Salinas, Calif., and Digital Monitoring Products of Springfield, Mo., in fall 2001 received Underwriters Laboratories' listings for their high-line security communications via the Internet. The UL 1610 burglary listing applies to Radionics' D6600Ã‚Â NetCom SystemÃ‚Â and DMP's XR200 control panel and SCS-1 receiver.
At press time, UL approval was pending for the transmission of fire signals via the Internet or intranet. (See Fire Alarms via Internet)
Internet or intranet monitoring is expected to bring down the costs typically incurred by using current digital dialer technology.
Instead of making a local, long distance or even 800-number phone call, the alarm panel would send its signal via a customer's high-speed cable modem, DSL or T1 line.
Once an Internet line is installed, there is no additional charge per message, so alarm signals are sent to the central station basically at no cost.
Mark Hillenburg, marketing manager at DMP, said while the UL listing has brought Internet monitoring to the forefront and will likely make it more accessible to all customers, the company has been applying the technology since 1995 via private networks for customers such as banks and jewelry stores.
"Banks have a lot of security concerns," he said, "and spend money on a higher level of security between bank branches and the central station." To meet UL AA or high line regulations required by their insurance companies, Hillenburg said banks must send a signal in to the central station every five minutes to ensure the line is OK.
"This gets costly quickly," he noted.
By sending those signals via an Internet or intranet network, rather than phone lines, the cost can be reduced.
Hillenburg noted the price tag of such monitoring systems initially limited its use to commercial customers, but second and third generation technology has seen costs halved and halved again, so hardware that once cost $1,500 to $1,200 is now in the $375 to $300 range.
Rich Ader, director of market development for communication products at Radionics, agreed that hardware costs "have come down dramatically."
"The Internet/intranet is clearly where communications is moving," he said.
Radionics began developing its system in 1997, he noted, and had it in test by late 1998. Banks were also its first customers, along with other network-oriented businesses such as government agencies and retail chains.
Both Ader and Hillenburg cite the advantages of Internet monitoring as its cost savings to customers and the central station, the ability to send messages more quickly and the enhanced supervision aspects, similar to those available when customers had dedicated phone lines.
Hillenburg said his company's system can transmit information in a matter of milliseconds vs. the traditional seconds it takes for a phone call to be placed. More concise information is also transmitted, he said, noting the message is spelled out such as "alarm at the back door" rather than in numbers or code.
For customers currently using DMP's high-end XR200 product, the conversion to Internet alarm monitoring requires adding a card to the control panel and reprogramming it.
Those owning other DMP panels would be required to purchase an upgrade, Hillenburg said.
Ader noted Radionics offers two ways for customers to connect. One version is similar to DMP's, with a direct connection via the Internet, while the other uses a dialer capture module that takes the information from the traditional digital dialer and then sends the signal over the Internet.
Ader acknowledged using the dialer capture module does slow down the response to about seven seconds vs. milliseconds. But the advantage, he said, is "customers aren't forced to make a huge investment upfront."
Dialer capture sales are larger now, Ader said, "but that will become less of an issue over time."
The cautious approach
Despite the attention Internet monitoring has garnered because of its UL approval, Hillenburg acknowledged companies offering these services must continue to beat the drum for this emerging technology.
He said more than 100 dealers and central stations which DMP works with have some Internet alarm monitoring taking place already.
"We're raising awareness through our sales and marketing efforts," he said, noting DMP "continues to go after the commercial side." Broadband Internet connections aren't as high in the residential sector as on the commercial side, he noted, "but we think (residential) sales will climb."
Ader noted interest in Internet monitoring is likely to vary dependingÃ‚Â onÃ‚Â a customer's needs and their willingness to make an investment in a more costly system. The interest, he said, has come from dealers who handle higher-end security.
Central station operators such as Michael Schubert and Woodie Andrawos of the newly opened National Monitoring Center in Aliso Viejo, Calif., said although they have equipped their station with Internet access, and believe telecommunications costs would be reduced with Internet use, still they are taking a cautious approach to implementing the alarm monitoring technology.
"It's going to take a while before people feel comfortable with it," Schubert said. "Our job as a contract monitoring station is to act quickly and professionally; I'm worried about delays on the Internet."
Both Schubert and Andrawos said they haven't seen a large demand for Internet monitoring among the accounts they've signed up.
Michael Gregory of Moni-tronics International Inc., Dallas, said his company receives less than one percent of its alarm signals via the Internet. But, he added, "we expect this percentage to grow as dealers install more equipment with Internet connectivity."
He said it has applications for both commercial and residential use and also paves the way for video monitoring as higher bandwidth becomes available.
The nation's largest third-party monitoring company, King-Monital-IDC, which operates four central stations and has 500,000 subscribers, is currently evaluating Internet monitoring, according to Vice President Peter Giacalone, who is based in Hackensack, N.J.
"We're definitely going to move forward with this," he said, adding the process is under way and some Internet monitoring should be in place by early 2002.
Giacalone said it's hard to argue with the improved logistics created by the Internet. "If you already have broadband connectivity, it's more efficient than a dialer and a phone call."