Is 'wake-up' device the answer for mPERS?

Securus, a mobile security solutions provider, has found a way to minimize lingering concerns about battery life
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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

CARY, N.C.—Mobile PERS units are emerging as a monitoring staple, but that doesn’t mean the device is without its share of skeptics.

One of the most common criticisms leveled against mobile PERS devices, whether in hardware or app form, has to do with their relatively low battery life, a result of their constantly having to ping satellites to determine a user’s changing location.

Securus, a mobile safety and security solutions provider based here, might just have come up with a response to that criticism. The eResponder, launched earlier this year, is a mobile unit that “wakes up” when it’s needed, allowing the battery to last up to two months without recharging.  

“The majority of battery life savings comes from the device being able to be off until you need to use it,” Tom Collopy, CEO of Securus, told Security Systems News. “GPS-based devices typically have to be on all the time or turn on frequently, which significantly impacts battery life.”

Securus, founded in 2008 as a provider of GPS tracking devices, entered the PERS market with the launch of a traditional unit in 2012, around the time mobile technology was emerging as the new frontier for the industry. From the outset, Collopy says he viewed the security industry as a “critical partner” in the PERS space. The company’s call center for the majority of its business is AvantGuard Monitoring, an Ogden, Utah-based company that has carved out a niche in the PERS market. Collopy said two additional central station partners were going to be online shortly, but declined to say which ones.

Collopy believes the hardware units for mobile PERS, as opposed to apps integrated in mobile phones, will have the broadest market acceptance because cell phones are still vulnerable to battery life issues and do not have the “form factor” that ensures they will be with people at all times and across all scenarios, such as in the shower.

“The form factor [of mobile phones] don’t lend itself to having it with you at all times,” Collopy told SSN. “Battery life and form factor are not solved by cellphones.”

Collopy believes eResponder has a future as a monitored product on college campuses. While he admitted it’s not always an easy sell due to various on-campus political dynamics, he said that when Securus was able to show the concept directly to students and parents, they were sold.

Another commonly cited limitation of mobile PERS units is the fact they’re subject to the vagaries of GPS, which requires a clear view to satellites and can be disrupted by environmental factors. Additionally, two-way voice, a feature of the eResponder, is only of use if the user is in a position to speak and give information regarding their whereabouts. To account for these potential snags, the eResponder allows dispatchers responding to an event to coordinate with 9-1-1 operators to gain use of their Uplink-Time Difference of Arrival (U-TDOA) network, a wireless location technology that relies on cell tower receivers that can identify location within 50 meters.

Collopy described U-TDOA as “cell identification on steroids.”

Henry Edmonds, president of the Edmonds Group, an investment bank based in St. Louis, said the eResponder hits on some key factors, such as long battery life, small size and shower-safe hardware, that could allow it to carve out an important niche in the market. While hardware and app-based mPERS devices continue to vie for broader adoption, they might end up servicing different segments of the population, Edmonds noted.

“I see the [eResponder] as being a better fit for people viewing this not as a ‘nice to have’ but as a lifeline to being comfortable,” he said. “The app-based, Bluetooth-based products are going to appeal to people that think of this service not as a necessity.”

The downside of any hardware device, Edmonds added, is the perceived inconvenience of having to carry a second device in addition to a cellphone. But older customers—and their caretakers—who want around-the-clock reliability and ease of use in an emergency scenario, are “going to view hardware devices as an essential service,” Edmonds said.