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.

Wireless sensors in next-gen security systems mean DIY'ers don't need to run wires or worry about repositioning sensors.
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Home Security Feng Shui

Does installing your own security system make it less effective? Experts say no. In fact, one reason DIY next-generation systems can be quickly and reliably installed is because the control panel and sensors are wireless.

This makes them easy to reposition if you change your mind. For example, ISDN's Seibert said that using wireless sensors "allowed me to alarm doors inside our office that normally would have required major running of wire and problems, and I can alarm doors inside the office that I wasn't going to originally alarm." That includes the data center door, which he monitors simply to know who's going in or out without having to review the CCTV feed.

Upgrades Galore

Next-generation systems let you add sensors relatively ad infinitum without a bump in monitoring fees (except, typically, for live video feeds or if you're adding a cellular backbone). Furthermore, sensors cost as little as $20. And some systems can even be tied together remotely, for example to monitor your vacation home via the controller in your primary residence.

This is leading many users to go with more than just the basics. According to Stilp, "the majority of security systems sold in the last 10-20 years have only had 2-3 security sensors, or 4-5 if you count motion detectors." By comparison, he said the average InGrid system has "12-15 sensors, and growing."

Options include siren detectors which listen for the smoke and carbon monoxide detector alarms you already own, temperature and moisture detectors, and even swimming pool monitors (letting you know if someone takes an unauthorized dip). Additional extenders can also add range to a system. Finally, more than one vendor is racing to develop an iPhone application for remote system management. Wireless IP-based video cameras with pan/tilt capabilities are also on the way.

Future State Of The Art

What else might next-generation security systems offer? One trend to watch, said Ablondi, is more remote-control security for the home, such as the new Z-Wave lock made by Schlage. Scheduled to reach the market by 2009, the battery-operated keypad lock communicates via radio frequency technology with a Web-enabled gateway, allowing users to access any door remotely to unlock or lock the door and create or disable pass codes. So if you're expecting a contractor, "the combination can be 1-2-3 -4 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when they're supposed to show up, and after that it reverts to a secret code when they're not supposed to be in the place."

Beyond remote locks, Ablondi said his research finds that 12-15% of households are interested in remotely controlling the temperature or lighting in their home, and remote-controlled thermostats are likewise on the way. Think about it: Did you accidentally leave the heat cranked up while on a two-week winter ski vacation? Just dial the furnace down from the slopes with your iPhone or BlackBerry and save a bundle in energy costs. Given the price of oil, that may be the next wave in "home security."

Editors' Choice
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer, Dark Reading
Shikha Kothari, Senior Security Adviser, Eden Data