Alarm market continues its evolution as clients' needs change

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Evolution at both a technological and social level is giving a new look to the traditional alarm system market. While the majority of systems remain hard-wired and tied to a central station, an increasing number of options, such as wireless systems or those aimed at the secondary home market, are coming on board, allowing end users to become more involved with the functionality of their systems.
Based on a European model, Bill Lyon, president of Visonic, said the company switched its product development in 2000 to concentrate on wireless systems that combine both security and home automation functions.
"What we believe will happen is the wireless side of home security will overtake the wired side of home security," he said. "We think it will migrate."
Tim McKinney, vice president of residential sales for ADT, agreed that wireless alarm systems present an opportunity for growth, especially because of the ease of installation associated with them.
"Theoretically, someone with some technology capability can do it," explained Lyon, "or get help to do it." Still, he said, the majority of installations with wireless systems remain in the hands of integrators and alarm dealers.
McKinney said despite the preponderance of hard-wired or at least hybrid systems, models are being built to offer wireless options.
The market for wireless is "extremely robust," said Al Lizza, director of marketing for Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics. "Wireless solves some critical problems for installers and homeowners," he said. For installers, he noted, it's a matter of easy installation combined with flexibility.
For instance, said Lizza, wireless sensors can be put in the optimal location, not just the one that is dictated by where the wires are located.
For homeowners, he said, the advantage is "no one is drilling holes in the walls. It's less intrusive."
Additionally, said Lizza, both installers and end users are more comfortable with the technology these days. Most people have experienced wireless devices in other areas of their lives, from computers to phones.
If there is a downside to wireless, said Lizza, it's the need to change batteries. But, he added, "the increase in the number of installations overcomes that potential negative."
"I think the technology has improved in terms of battery life," McKinney pointed out, adding the strength of radio frequency signals is also more robust.
Another change in the marketplace that is influencing alarm systems going forward is the desire to control more than just security within a home or secondary residence.
"The assumption is that the consumer will want the ability, over the Internet and by cellphone, to control their home and remote locations," said Lyon.
He said the newest generation of communications, such as Blue Tooth technology and now ZigBee, "will enable home control to be more cost efficient."
Locks, lighting and other environmental controls can now function remotely through technology, said McKinney. "We're bringing technology to the home to make it more convenient." And by being convenient, McKinney said that means having controls that are touch screen or voice activated.
The need for control has expanded beyond the primary residence as well to include security for second homes.
Lizza said for non-primary residences, the focus for alarm systems is on "protecting property more than life safety."
The key, said McKinney, is to detect events before anything bad occurs.
Via an Internet connection, said Lyon, customers can go on line to look at their summer home using cameras that are either wired or wireless and to receive information on alarms for intrusion, fire and water that are also in a wired or wireless format.
Recognizing the dominance of the Internet, said Lyon, the company has had to provide an add-on that gives a full Internet-direct connection through wireless means.
McKinney of ADT agreed there is growing demand to get information directly from remote locations. "We've got products now that allow customers, at their leisure, to get information from their laptop or PC," he said.
Many customers want to do some of the monitoring of these sites themselves, either via the Internet or through phones, said Lizza. Even if a central station is involved, he said, "many systems still can communicate to the homeowner as well."
The use of secure measures allows for communication between the residence and the homeowner without fear of third-party interference.
Despite the rise in the Internet and wireless communications, Alan Bass, president of Digimerge, said some locations are so remote that phone lines are still the only means of access. For these customers, he said, Digimerge allows remote access via a phone line.
Using up to four cameras, customers can receive still images. Additionally, they can dial in or be called to receive their alarms.
This type of system, he said, bridges the gap between those who use traditional alarm systems and monitoring for their secondary homes and those who want to be aware of what is going on "but don't want more monthly fees."