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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On one hand, it’s hard not to see the appeal of Lowe’s new Iris home management system. It’s do-it-yourself for those with the dexterity to install a thermostat, it’s cloud-based so homeowners can control and check on their properties remotely, and it’s inexpensive: starter kits range from $179 to $299, and there are no monthly fees for those who choose to do their own alarm monitoring.

On the other hand, how many homeowners are really prepared to be their own central station?

Sarah-Frances Wallace, a Lowe’s spokeswoman, recently touted the self-monitoring aspect of Iris in an interview with SSN's Tess Nacelewicz. Wallace said homeowners “can respond appropriately” when they receive a security alert, using an Iris camera to see “if there’s an intruder in your home that would require police response … or if it’s the dog knocking something over.”

Wallace said DIY monitoring helps avoid the problem of false alarms, for which many municipalities now charge homeowners a penalty. “This kind of gives the homeowner more control over triggered alarm events in the home,” she said.

But what happens when the homeowner decides the alarm is legit, they call 911, police respond and they find nothing amiss? What happens when the scenario gets played out three or four times in a month at the same residence? Do you think the municipality is going to continue to absorb the cost of dispatching officers and cruisers?

Ask any alarm company owner and I think you'll get a consistent response to that. Municipal budgets are tight and they're only going to get tighter. Just because a professional wasn't involved in the installation and monitoring of a system doesn't mean local officials are suddenly going to forgive and forget when it comes to false alarms.

For homeowners who want a little help when it comes to dealing with alerts from their Iris system, Lowe's offers a self-monitoring service for $9.99 a month. "You can set it up so if there's a triggered event in your home, it would email [or text or call] your neighbor … [or a] small network of people you'd want to receive notification of events," Wallace told SSN.

The service is ideal "if you're on vacation and you receive a notification that there is an event in your home," she said. "You could contact your neighbor—because they've also received [the notification]—and they could look into it for you."In a perfect world, it all ends well. If a pet triggered the alarm and the neighbor happens to be around to make that determination, everyone sleeps easy that night. But what if it wasn't Fido who did the deed and it's an intruder instead? What happens when the neighbor walks headlong into that situation?

Hello, Ken Kirschenbaum.

The point is, there are times when it pays to do things yourself and times when it pays to let professionals handle it. Again, it's hard to dispute the appeal of Lowe's Iris system for many people and for many applications. But should home security be one of them? Let the buyer beware.

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by: Rich Miller - Tuesday, July 31, 2012

If nothing else, last week's blog on the 2G sunset served to toss another log on the fire in the debate over how long the technology will last in the face of frequency harvesting by carriers. Among the responses I received was an argument that 2G will remain viable in part due to CDMA-based equipment, which could stick around a lot longer than its GPRS and GMS cousins.

"I was reading your 2G sunset blog this morning and wanted to point out that many cellular alarm solution providers support T-Mobile USA or other 2G carriers along with AT&T Wireless coverage," said the reader, who said I could pass along his remarks on condition of anonymity. "AT&T is the carrier making the most noise about phasing out 2G GPRS, but T-Mobile has no current plans to sunset. Also, CDMA-based carriers like Verizon and Sprint still have a long planned life for 2G CDMA."

The reader agreed that the issue is critical for the industry, saying the majority of cellular alarm systems currently deployed utilize 2G GPRS on AT&T. But he took issue with the terminology being used and urged others to do the same.

"While AT&T-based cellular alarm providers certainly have the largest marketing presence, please be careful referring to the AT&T GPRS sunset as a '2G sunset,' because many 2G alarm solutions will stay viable for a long time," he said.

Another reader, Steve Wallace, called attention to the fact that just because no carrier has announced a date for the sunset, it doesn't mean it's not going to happen. He said the process has already begun and commented that companies not paying heed "may be looking at this wrong."

"For quite a while some carriers, such as AT&T, have stopped certifying new 2G devices," Wallace said. "Carriers have begun to re-purpose [refarm] the 2G spectrum into LTE offerings. 2G equipment is retiring and is being replaced for 4G. 3G expansion has virtually ceased."

The reality for alarm companies is that signal strength will decline for a lot of equipment in the field as these changes take hold.

"Alarm systems with 2G radios could become more problematic long before 'sunset' is announced," he said.

Like I mentioned last week, a sunset date by AT&T would likely knock a lot of people off the fence if they've been considering a move to 3G/4G. All is quiet at the moment, but it would be shortsighted to think it’s going to stay that way. Alarm companies would be wise to plan accordingly and keep a sharp eye on the horizon.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Still looking for clarity about the “2G sunset” and whether you’ll be left holding the bag if you don’t upgrade your cellular alarm communicators to 3G (or even 4G) right now?   

You’re not alone. The buzz continued last month at ESX, with manufacturers jockeying to try to sway alarm dealers. Telguard, the company sounding the loudest warning about the sunset, went one step further by announcing a program that gives dealers up to $25 for every 2G cell communicator they replace with a Telguard 3G/4G product. The company does not sell 2G.

“We estimate the industry has 3 million 2G radios that will have to be replaced in the next five years,” said Shawn Welsh, vice president of marketing and business development for Telguard.

Unlike AMPS, the date for the 2G sunset will not be determined by the FCC; it will determined by cellular carriers based on capacity constraints and customer demand for 3G. Carriers have already begun reallocating frequency spectrum to accommodate 3G, Welsh said, cutting into the effectiveness of 2G equipment.

But not everyone believes the sky is falling when it comes to 2G, at least not in the next few years. Among those taking a different approach is Mike Boyle, general manager of Uplink. The company is continuing to offer 2G lines while rolling out 4G at the same time.

“People are still buying a lot of 2G products,” he said. “We think we may continue to sell 2G beyond the third quarter of this year. Everything we see in the network says it will be around.”

Uplink backs its business plan with the following assertions on its website:

—2G is a proven technology with falling price points as manufacturing costs decrease.
—No carrier has announced a sunset date for its 2G network.
—Uplink’s communicators operate with multiple carriers and will continue to provide nationwide coverage late into the decade or longer.

The company also offers a lifetime guarantee to replace its 2G products with 4G if the 2G units fail to operate due to a carrier technology change. Boyle said the approach covers all bases by recognizing the realities of the marketplace.

“Requests for 4G are minimal,” he said. “When a guy asks for 4G, we ship 4G. But our business is still 98 percent 2G.”

An industry source who spoke to Security Systems News on condition of anonymity said a sunset announcement from AT&T would be made “in the next few months,” which could knock a lot of people off the fence if they’ve been considering a move to 3G/4G. But longevity is key for alarm dealers, and if they can hang onto their 2G gear for another year or two (or four), many probably will.

It’s the nature of the beast.

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by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rapid Response has won preliminary approval for a tax break that could pave the way for an $11.3 million expansion on its home turf in Syracuse, according to a report Tuesday in The Post-Standard.

The project, which would add up to 200 jobs, would include the purchase and renovation of the 37,500-square-foot building that Rapid currently leases, according to the report. Rapid also plans to build a 20,000-square-foot facility nearby.

The “payment in lieu of taxes” deal, or PILOT, approved by the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency would save Rapid about $738,000 over 10 years. A sales tax exemption on construction materials is expected to save the company another $500,000, the report said.

The expansion is not a done deal, however. The tax plan still needs to be approved by the City Council, with a bigger potential hurdle at a higher level: acquiring financial help from the state.

Ben Walsh, the city’s deputy commissioner of neighborhood and business development, told The Post-Standard that the project is contingent on Rapid receiving assistance from Empire State Development, a state agency.

An application has been submitted to the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council, which recommends projects for state funding. ESD officials are expected to announce the list of projects that receive funds by late October.

A start date for the project, which the company says would take about two years to complete, has not been announced.

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by: Rich Miller - Tuesday, July 10, 2012

They are powerful numbers: More than 18,000 acres burned, 32,000 residents forced to evacuate, and nearly 350 homes destroyed. The Waldo Canyon fire outside Colorado Springs is now under control, but not before leaving its mark as one of the most destructive in the state’s history.

It’s a long way from the sagebrush to Bay City, Mich., but that’s where DICE Corp.’s Disaster Recovery Center geared up to help any clients threatened by the Waldo wildfire and others in the region. DICE software is used to monitor thousands of homes and businesses in the Colorado Springs area.

“Having accounts in an area that could, at any time, be in jeopardy on a large scale … will cause intense management issues at the monitoring centers located in non-affected areas,” the company said in an email statement. “Part of the preparation we did on behalf of the recent Colorado evacuations was to make our Disaster Recovery Center available to receive signals from any of our clients if the [fire] was affecting their normal day-to-day businesses. In doing so, it provided an advanced storm mode, if you will, in which case the extra signal activity is removed from the center’s inbound circuits, which is really an expansion of capacity and services to the center.”

Melissa Courville, head of marketing and communications for DICE, said there were clients in the Colorado Springs area that did turn to the company’s DR center for assistance, but she was not at liberty to disclose who they were or to what extent they were affected.

Courville said the situation served as a reminder of when the company provided backup for a central station that was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina until it was able to rebuild.

“I’m humbled to say it was my first opportunity to step up as an emergency operator to dispatch,” she said. “To us it is only natural to offer our assistance, as we have done always and continue to do so.”
 

by: Rich Miller - Tuesday, July 3, 2012

For central stations wondering if they’ll ever be part of ASAP to PSAP, there was good news from ESX 2012: Progress continues to be made.

Show attendees got an update on the protocol at a seminar led by Mark McCall of United Central Control, Glenn Schroeder of the Security Network of America, Pam Petrow and Anita Ostrowski of Vector Security, and Melissa Courville of DICE Corp.

While ASAP might not be advancing fast enough to satisfy everyone in the industry, the panelists in Nashville listed a number of bullet points that detailed the gains. Among them:

—A CSAA-owned message broker is up and running at the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (Nlets) facility in Arizona. The server acts as a scrubber for transmissions being forwarded from monitoring companies to public safety answering points.

—A trademark process has been completed to certify the ASAP name and logo.

—ANSI version 3.3 of the protocol is currently live in Richmond, Va., and it is scheduled to go online in other pilot project locations by the end of the year.

—ASAP leaders have expanded their outreach to the PSAP community in 2012, with presentations to groups including the Texas Police Chiefs Association and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The three municipalities involved in the pilot project—Richmond, Va., York County, Va., and Houston—are scheduled to be joined soon by Tempe, Ariz., and James City County, Va. On the monitoring side, Alarm Detection Systems and ADT are in line to join pilot participants Vector Security, UCC and Monitronics.

McCall, director of information technology and facility security officer at UCC, told the seminar audience that central stations planning to become part of ASAP may find that the requirements “are a little bit more than what your operation is used to now.”

“Remember what we’re connecting to,” he said, referring to Nlets. “We’re connecting to the same network that every police department, every fire department and every emergency agency is connected to. Nlets is responsible for the integrity of that network, and for us as an industry to play in their sandbox, we have to meet their security requirements.”

On the plus side, most of those concerns were alleviated with the deployment of the message broker, McCall said. Other ASAP issues involving the preparation of automation vendors and CAD providers are being addressed, and the CSAA is creating a new website—www.asaptopsap.org—to keep interested parties informed.

“The materials are continually being added to and the CSAA will let everyone know when [the information] is ready for public consumption, as it will be sending out ASAP-dedicated email blasts to confirmed charter members at that time,” said Courville, co-chairwoman of the ASAP to PSAP Outreach Committee.

In the interim, she said inquires about the protocol should be addressed to Becky Lane (membership@csaaintl.org) or Monique Talbot (communications@csaaintl.org) at the CSAA.

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Just off the show floor after a very busy Wednesday at ESX, starting with the CSAA Excellence Awards Breakfast. There were a number of great seminars throughout the day and the floor was abuzz with networking. I assume everyone saved a little energy for the ESX Crawl …

I’m about to get out there myself to sample a little of that Nashville hospitality, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the award winners who highlighted the day. For those who might have missed it:

CSAA Central Station of the Year: Vivint
Honorable mention: United Central Control

CSAA Central Station Manager of the Year: Amy Becht, Vivint
Honorable mention: John Williams, Alarmco

CSAA Central Station Operator of the Year: Gale Gordon, The Protection Bureau
Honorable mention: Jorge Rodriguez, Monitronics

CSAA Central Station Support Person of the Year: David Palacios, UCC
Honorable mention: Kate Brickner, Vivint

ESX also announced its Maximum Impact Award winners for 2012. Hats off to the following:

Overall winner: 2GIG Technologies Go! 2.0

Best Access Control/ID Systems—Access Control System: Interlogix TruPortal

Best Access Control/ID Systems—Biometrics: 3M Cogent MiY-Card

Best Access Control/ID Systems—Telephone Entry Control/Intercom Systems: Optex iVision Plus

Best Accessories & Aids—Dealer Company Software: DICE Matrix Tech Service

Best Accessories & Aids—Mobile Applications: SedonaOffice, SedonaFSU Web Edition

Best Accessories & Aids—Installation Tool/Tester: Salient Systems, Salient University eLearning

Best Alarm Equipment—Alarm Signal Transmission Equipment: Telguard Cellular Communications for 3G/4G Networks

Best Alarm Equipment—Annunciators, Bells, Sirens, Strobes: Metis Secure Solutions, Metis Secure ENS

Best Alarm Equipment—Enhanced Video Alarm: Videofied-RSI Video Tech, IP Upgrade Kit with Videofied Free

Best Alarm Equipment—Intrusion Alarm Control Panels: Interlogix Simon XTi

Best Alarm Equipment—Intrusion Sensors/Detectors: Honeywell Security Group 5816OD

Best Alarm Equipment—PERS Hardware: SilverFox Link Watch/Pendant PERS System

Best Alarm Equipment—Wireless Alarm Systems: 2GIG Technologies Go! 2.0

Best Central Station Equipment—Central Station Software: DICE Matrix Fire Inspection

Best Central Station Equipment—Remote Video Monitoring Equipment/Software: SureView Systems Immix Cloud

Best Services—Alarm Monitoring: Bold Technologies UniversalConnector

Best Services—Dealer Marketing Services: BlueStar Security Solutions FUSION

Best Services—Security as a Service (SaaS): Honeywell Security Group MAXPRO Cloud

Best Services—Video Monitoring Services: I-View Now

Best Video Security—Cameras: Altronix eBridge IP over Coax Adapters

Best Video Security—Video Analytics: CheckVideo, CheckVideo HD Megapixel IP Bullet Camera (CV135)

Best Video Security—Video Surveillance System: Axis Communications, AXIS Camera Companion

That’s it for now. The weather prognosticators are calling for a summer stew over the next couple of days in Nashville, so the ESX show floor will be the place to be. See you out there …

by: Rich Miller - Tuesday, June 26, 2012

“Very impressive.”

That comment, made by a tour-goer gazing at the hardware at ADS Security’s central station in Nashville, pretty much summed up the sentiment of the rest of the group that visited the facility Tuesday afternoon as part of ESX 2012.

And it wasn’t just the equipment and monitoring capabilities detailed by the tour guides. It was more of what ADS President John Cerasuolo described as “a culture of recognition” at the company that has motivated its employees and translated into better service for its customers.

Cerasuolo greeted the tour group and gave a brief history of ADS, which was established in 1990 and now monitors about 70,000 accounts at its two-story headquarters. Scott Harkins, president of Honeywell Security Products, followed Cerasuolo with a few remarks about ADS and its success, with both men praising the partnership between the companies.

The tour group was then divided to allow for a more efficient look at the site. Stops along the way included a session with SSN “20 under 40” honoree Patrick Ritter, company VP and controller, who detailed improvements like the SedonaOffice daily dashboard that has helped the company keep better track of its accounts and make any necessary adjustments. ADS also provides laptops for all of its technicians, improving service and efficiency in the field, and it has established a Web portal to speed the payment process for customers.

There was also a lot of talk about technology that I won’t detail here, and well-deserved trumpeting of employee training—all 28 full-time operators are certified CSAA Level I and Level II at the Five Diamond central, the tour group was told.

The kudos reflected the culture of recognition that Cerasuolo spoke of, which has translated into a low turnover rate among operators—the average tenure is 7.6 years—and a long list of rewards for performance companywide.

 “I’ve been here four years and I absolutely love it,” one tour guide told me.

What company owner doesn’t want to hear that?

by: Rich Miller - Monday, June 25, 2012

Off and running shortly in Nashville for ESX, which promises to be the biggest and most informative edition in the event's five-year history. The show returns to its roots this year after stops in Pittsburgh and Charlotte, and people are already talking about the ESX Crawl. There will be a lot of business before the pleasure, though, and here are a few highlights:

—The ESA Eye-Opener Breakfast on Tuesday will shine the spotlight on Security System News' "20 under 40" Class of 2012, young professionals who are already making their mark on the industry and likely will continue to do so for many years to come. They'll share stories of how they've gotten to this point in their careers and talk about the people who have helped them get there.

—Later in the day, show attendees who want a backstage look at a CSAA Five Diamond central station will get their chance when ADS Security opens its doors for a tour of its monitoring facility in Nashville. The session is sponsored by Honeywell Security Group.

—Who will head home with the CSAA's Excellence Awards for 2012? Find out at the group's annual breakfast Wednesday morning, with awards for Central Station of the Year, Manager of the Year, Operator of the Year, and Support Person of the Year.

—Learn the latest on the evolution of ASAP to PSAP at a Wednesday morning session featuring Ed Bonifas of the CSAA and Alarm Detection Systems. Vector Security, UCC and Monitronics have taken the reins during the pilot phase of the program, but the CSAA had 75 other companies waiting to adopt ASAP at the beginning of 2012. It's an exciting time for exciting technology that is advancing every day.

That's just a taste of what ESX is serving up this year. There is a long list of seminars at www.esxweb.com, and there will be four days of networking on the show floor. And the Crawl, of course. I'll be doing my best to make the most of it. See you there ...

by: Rich Miller - Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The big, bad cable giants and telecoms are riding into town, aiming to steal your horses and accounts and whatever else they can toss a lasso around. Everyone knew the day was coming, but now that it’s here, are you prepared to hold your ground? Do you really have what it takes to compete, or will you forever be at the mercy of the black hats?

Rest assured there’s hope, and you can tap into it at ESX. A number of sessions are planned to help alarm companies deal with this new landscape by staying technologically savvy and by offering what has long been seen as the silver bullet for the industry: superior customer service.

At the ESA Industry Luncheon and Annual Meeting on June 28, Kristen Simmons, managing partner at Lightswitch and former VP of marketing for Mazda North America, will share her expertise about what it takes to earn customers and turn them into advocates for your business. Simmons led Mazda’s “Zoom Zoom” ad campaign and also founded LiveSmart Security, a boutique provider of home security services.

“Over the next five to 10 years, one factor will become ever more critical to the success of manufacturers, security integrators and monitoring companies alike: the customer experience,” Simmons said in an ESX news release. “New technology and integrated approaches have enabled a far more captivating experience for security customers than the traditional ‘detect and respond’ model. Leveraging these capabilities will be an enormous catalyst for customer loyalty, RMR growth and bottom-line profitability.”

On the technology side, at least a dozen sessions are planned at ESX to help attendees take on the telecoms and cablecos. A recent addition to the schedule features Patrick Egan, owner of Lancaster, Pa.-based Security Partners, who will host a series of interviews with industry leaders on how alarm companies can compete with the big boys entering the market. Egan will talk with each executive for about 15 minutes, then open the floor for a 15-minute Q&A.

The sessions are scheduled to run from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. on June 27 at the Security Partners booth (No. 725) at the Nashville Convention Center. Seating is first come, first served. Executives on board so far include Kirk MacDowell from GE, Lance Dean from 2GIG, Gordon Hope from Honeywell, and Jay Kenny from Alarm.com.

“With all the buzz in the marketplace, we think this is going to generate a lot of interest,” said Joseph Mitton, marketing coordinator for Security Partners.

To check out the full list of ESX seminars, go to www.esxweb.com. See you in Nashville …

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