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9/10/2008
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Home Security Gets A Web Makeover

Forget the closet control panel, today's Internet- and smartphone-enabled home security systems allow browser-based management, SMS updates, live video feeds, and money-saving DIY options.




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Event notifications can be relayed to cell phones via text messaging.
(click for image gallery)

Can you install a reliable security system for a home or small business on the cheap, and manage it while on the go?

That was the question posed by James Seibert, owner and president of Information Security Defense Network in St. Peters, Mo. "We moved into a new office about a year and a half ago, and when we did, we needed a new alarm system. Being an IT-based company, one of the main things I was looking for was a way to manage the system remotely, from top to bottom, because I'm not in the office so much. And I actually didn't think I was going to find what I needed."

Ultimately, however, Seibert discovered a do-it-yourself, browser-configurable system from Alarm.com, which he installed himself. This involved placing wireless sensors -- backed by adhesive -- on doors he wanted to secure, choosing a location for the base station, and then configuring the system from his browser.

He said the process took very little time, and that he was surprised by all of the unexpected features included. For starters, he can assign each employee a unique alarm code, so he knows who's coming and going. He also created various notification rules, and now receives an e-mail when the first employee arrives each morning (meaning the business is open), as well as when any door is opened after the normal closing time (since that's suspicious). And the total cost for the system was low -- less than $1,000. The bottom line, he said, is that the Alarm.com system "made it feasible for me to put this together, and didn't break the bank to do it."

Next-Generation Security Systems

Today, "about 27% of all households in the United States have some kind of security system, and 21% of all households have a security system that's professionally monitored," said Bill Ablondi, director of home systems research at Dallas-based research firm Parks Associates. The vast majority of these security systems are the provenance of large security companies -- the leaders are ADT, Brinks, and Protection One -- who install and then monitor them for a monthly fee via controllers that rely on your telephone line.

Now, however, a new generation of Internet- and cellular-enabled security systems -- including Alarm.com (available through resellers), AT&T's Remote Monitor, InGrid, LaserShield, and WiLife -- offers to do more than just stop the bad guys, and for less money than a traditional security system.

Some options involve do-it-yourself installation, while others must be professionally installed. Some companies, including iControl and uControl, are developing technology to enhance traditional security systems (and which will not be sold direct to consumers). Cable companies are also starting to get into the game, offering next-generation home security as part of a "quadruple play" that bundles it with cable television, phone, and broadband.

To Monitor -- Or Not

Typical next-generation system monitoring costs $30-$50 per month and is all-inclusive. "Our single most popular feature is text messaging, we don't charge by the message, and we have customers who get hundreds of messages per day," said Lou Stilp, CEO of InGrid, who limits his notifications to about 10-12 text messages per day. "I'm interested in when my wife or daughter arms or disarms," he explained. Really, then, the alarm system "functions as a remote door chime" -- he knows when something is happening in the house, even if he's not there.

With a traditional alarm system, if you don't pay for the monitoring service, then your only notification when the alarm trips is that the buzzer sounds -- and if you're away, here's hoping your neighbor calls the cops. With next-generation systems, however, self-monitoring is actually a viable option, since the system can still dispatch an e-mail through your broadband router to let you know something may be amiss.

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