NY Times buys what InGrid's selling

It's becoming pretty clear that InGrid possesses one of the savvier marketing departments in the industry. I showed you over the summer how they weaseled their way into all kinds of newspapers with free "editorial." (Good for them. I admire weasels.) Now they've landed themselves a story in the New York Times that isn't exactly complimentary to the alarm industry as a whole. As you might expect in what appears to be a planted sort of story, it's sort of riddled with inaccuracies. I'm not one who slags the New York Times as a rule, but there's some pretty embarrassing stuff here, and I don't think John Biggs is a frontline NYT reporter. Wirelessly, Home Security Becomes a D.I.Y. Project By JOHN BIGGS WHEN Ken Jongsma built his new house, he found that the builders had already installed a basic security system — sometimes called a prewire. A tinkerer and engineer, Mr. Jongsma, 50, decided to upgrade and monitor the system on his own. “What most people do not understand is that a residential alarm prewire is a come-on by alarm companies to get you to sign up for their — usually expensive — monitoring,” he said. A "come-on." Or, a sales tactic. Or, a value-add installed by the builder. Why is this article so combative toward the alarm industry from the get-go? Until recently, Mr. Jongsma’s attempt to install and maintain his own security system would have been impossible. Now, however, with a little knowledge, even nonengineers can add a security system to their homes for less than a standard prewired installation by a professional. Most security systems consist of two parts: the hardware and the monitoring service. For decades, the hardware (window and door sensors and motion detectors, for example) was often installed by professionals, as it required some wiring and cabling. And while those sensors may have been connected to a siren or flashing lights, the real benefit to having an alarm has always been that someone will call the police when it goes off. For many years, that was also something the alarm companies were happy to provide — witness the countless television ads that have featured thoughtful and hyper-competent people staffing an alarm company’s command HQ, ready to call the police and offer reassurance to the homeowner. Hmm. I must have missed those "countless" ads. And is it bad to be hyper-competent? It's a benefit, right? As King Gillette discovered with razors and cellphone providers have popularized with monthly fees, the real money to be made in alarms is not in the hardware — it’s in the monitoring. The hardware can be subsidized by the security company almost to the point where it is free, but paying an alarm service about $30 a month for years and years to watch over your system more than makes those companies whole. Okay. Nothing new there. What's the point? People aren't supposed to try to make money in this country. We should be trying to build business plans that fail and don't make money? Newer systems, however, can reduce the total cost of alarm ownership. Instead of relying on installers to rewire the house, new “security systems in a box” use a combination of battery, wireless and cellular technology to make installation simple and quick for most homeowners. Some systems can even bypass monitoring firms directly and contact the owner instead of a third party when the alarm is set off. One such system is sold by InGrid Home Security. The basic package, available for $199 at ingridhome.com, includes an alarm console, a phone that doubles as an alarm control and three window or door sensors. The entire kit fits in a box about as big as a shoebox. The sensors stick to doors and windows with sticky tape and are completely wireless. They are powered by tiny watch batteries and connect automatically with a few taps on the cordless handset. You can monitor the system online, even taking video and images using an optional video camera. The system took about an hour to install in a two-story home. No tools were necessary but there were a few snags while activating sensors and base stations. And that would be better than someone else installing the alarm system wirelessly for a $99 initial fee why? It's better to do the work yourself and pay $100 more? What am I missing here? It's pretty clear that all of this guy's information is being supplied by InGrid. How is the total cost of ownership less, exactly? The monitoring service costs $20 a month and discounts are available with a yearly contract. What? I thought we were getting rid of the monitoring service. And where did that magical $30 a month figure come from before? It's a total straw-man argument. Set up some mythical $30 a month standard, then - WOW - InGrid is $10 a month cheaper than that! This is absurd. There are plenty of places the reporter could have acquired an industry standard for a monitoring fee (the CSAA comes to mind), and then maybe there could have been some discussion of what that monitoring fee gets you. And InGrid isn't using some kind of special monitoring service. They use Guardian Protection! What, do they charge old dummy alarm customers $30 a month for monitoring, but new self-install smarty-pants $20 a month? This is the height of crappy reporting. How much does Guardian charge if they install an InGrid system and then monitor it? How much does ADS charge when they install an InGrid system and then monitor it? Then we might have a real total cost of ownership discussion that made at least some sense. Right now? Not so much. A video camera costs $130 and temperature and water sensors — for basements or unattended summer homes — cost $60 each. The service offers 24-hour monitoring as well as access to video feeds over the Internet. Smoke and siren detectors cost $100 and $50 respectively. LaserShield, another company offering a monitoring and hardware package, focuses more on motion detectors in the home. The starter kit, which costs $200 and is available at lasershield.net, includes a motion sensor and keychain remote. It requires a standard telephone connection for monitoring and for sending alerts; monitoring costs an additional $20 a month. You can control the system through a Web site. Again, why do you want to pay more to install the system yourself? And why do you want to be the one installing your motion detectors, etc., when you have no clue about range and sensitivity and whether your dog is going to set them off? This is an option, sure, but not the obvious choice it's being made out to be. Within a few weeks , the company will release the LaserShield Pro, a professional grade security system that is designed for easy do-it-yourself installation. For under $300, the new pro kit includes a motion detector, control panel, and two door or window sensors. For an extra charge, LaserShield will also offer a flood detector, a glass-break detector and a wireless siren. The starter kit is fairly easy to install. You simply place the motion sensor in one room and the base in another, near the Internet or telephone lines. The alarm announces when it has been tripped and begins by calling your own phone number and then notifying the police if there is no reply. It took about 10 minutes to set up the hardware and activate the system. So, the inexpertly installed motion detector calls you on your cell phone when your dog sets it off. You're in a meeting and the phone is off. Next call is to the cops! I doubt there will be any false alarms generated there. Did anybody clue this guy into the false alarm problem at all? Doubtful. (Also, this guy can't decide if LaserShield is one word or two, but we'll let that slide.) For an additional $230 you can buy Laser Shield’s Cyclone, a stand-alone cellular transmitter that provides a connection to the company’s monitoring station even if phone lines are cut. Adding the Cyclone increases the monthly monitoring fee to $30. Those without landline telephones or VoIP services like Vonage will have to purchase Laser Shield’s Sparrow for an additional $130 (plus an extra $10 a month), which allows the alarm system to work over the Internet. What? Now we're back to $30 a month? That's what those old-school guys charge, right? So, I do all the work myself, I pay more for the initial package, and then I pay the same for the monitoring? Wow. That's a way better deal. Where do I sign up? Look, I'm being overly dramatic and I know that monitoring fees are all over the map in terms of what you pay for what types of service, etc. And that's my point. This isn't an in-depth exploration of whether you should DIY your alarm system or not. This is just a long (and it is long, so he did have the space to actually call someone from the industry - or call anyone, for that matter; the only quotes in here are from some random guy who self-installed a system, and he's an engineer!) advertisement for InGrid and LaserShield. What's the point of writing that? There's a reason LaserShield and InGrid are courting alarm dealers to install their products: People don't want to install their own security systems. And why should they? Look, I could install my own brand-new washer if I wanted to, but why would I? If I buy it from Sears, they come and do it for me, and then I get a service plan and all kinds of add-ons if I want them and that's where Sears makes their buck. Good for them if my washer never breaks. Good for me if (and of course, it does, generally when I'm on the road and the kids are sick) breaks and doesn't work. Of course, I could buy it online somewhere and have it appear at my door and lug it around and screw everything in and then fix it myself when it breaks, but why would I want to do that? I've got two freakin' kids that keep me plenty busy. Couldn't there be some discussion of the fact that InGrid and LaserShield products are both also sold by traditional alarm dealers? That this wireless thing is indeed cool, but mostly because it brings down the cost of professionally installed alarm systems? I just feel like this is a really pointless article to be in the New York Freakin' Times. Even big telecommunications companies are getting into the D.I.Y. security game. Steve Loop, director for business development at AT&T, says that home security has benefited from wireless connections. That is what prompted AT&T Wireless to offer AT&T Remote Monitoring. Originally aimed at small-business owners, the AT&T products do not contact the police in an emergency but instead send cellular text and e-mail messages to the homeowner when something is amiss. The basic kit starts at $299 and $25 a month. It includes one door sensor, a system controller and a remote camera. It also includes a system for transmitting video over home power lines. The kit also supports add-ons like temperature, motion and water sensors. Mr. Loop said he would not call AT&T remote monitoring a fully fledged security system. The system is truly D.I.Y. because the owner has to follow through when the alarm is set off. “The system lets you keep in touch with locations that matter to you when you’re not there,” he said. Mr. Loop said that some AT&T employees used the system to keep track of dogs and cats and even keep an eye on a babysitter while at work. The additional sensors act as triggers, allowing homeowners to keep track of sump pumps, heaters or air conditioners remotely. The installation and activation took about 30 minutes. I can't even get into how silly this part about AT&T is. For one, they charge a monthly fee for what's not even, by their own definition, a security system (wasn't that what we were trying to avoid?). For another thing, there is a monitored service you can get from AT&T as well, and it's run through C.O.P.S. And, finally, why are we talking about AT&T employees who use the system? Are there no AT&T customers? Not everyone, however, wants to go the D.I.Y. route. Dave Simon, spokesman for Brink’s Home Security, pointed out that many installations benefited from having a local expert installer. Experts can help decide which windows and doors to arm and which add-ons to include. Mr. Simon estimates that a full-service installation would cost about $200 for a basic system and a few hundred more for a more complex system. Brink’s also offers a monitoring service for $30 a month. “Brink’s installs the systems and monitors as well. Not every company does that,” he said. Most companies, he said, hire outside contractors to plan and install security systems using their products. This is classic. I expect this was the conversation in the news room: Editor: Dude, John, this story is utter crap. You didn't even talk to anyone in the security industry. What, did you do this whole story last night? Call some alarm company and get a quote or two for Christ's sake! John: Okay, hold on a minute. 10 minutes pass John: Okay, I'm all set. I talked to this guy at Brink's and he gave me some stuff we can just tack on the bottom. No sense actually incorporating it up into the story where it would have made sense. And get this? They charge $30 a month for monitoring, so we're totally all set! Editor: Sweet. Let's grab a drink. But let's go back to the central premise here: You can install your own system if you want. And how much did it cost? $199 for InGrid. So, let's see, I could install the system myself, pay $199, and have it monitored for $20 a month. Or I could have a professional person come to my house, install the system for $199 (I'm guessing Dave's rounding up), and have it monitored for $30 a month, but also have a service plan in case anything breaks, have an actual person to call if there are false alarm issues, etc. That's a no-brainer if you ask me. DIY, baby!


I would suggest you read Clayton M. Christensen's writing on disruptive technology to get a prespective on why Ingrid might be disruptive to the highly fragmented security installation industry. It is the natural evolution of some industries. They go through cycles of centralized and distributed delivery of value often being disrupted externally by solutions the dominant player doesn't always see coming. Disruption is not always bad as some of the players that are disrupted sometimes go onto disrupt other sectors. GM auto workers became office workers and IT guys (and maybe security system installers) pushing out established engineers in that sector. It is all very dynamic and Clayton does a good job of explaining why it happens.

[...] the New York Times has already declared that DIY residential alarm systems are easy-peasy, yet I’ve hardly seen a rush of homeowners bypassing the traditional alarm industry. I [...]

I agree that the NYT article is pretty lousy, it didnt even mention the main advantage for the DIY wireless install, the ability to take it with you when you move, perfect for renters.

What seems to set Ingrid apart to me is the fact that you can access the security system through the internet? I have not been able to find one typical alarm system where this is possible. Please, someone tell me if it is. I think there are a lot of people (like me) who have developed an extreme dislike for the security industry. When I owned a house in the burbs I couldn't work in the yard for half an hour without some guy from brinks or ADT accosting me and trying to scare me into an alarm system. There really seems to be no innovation in the security industry at all. Ingrid is just about all I have seen... As a computer engineer who wants an alarm system and wants it to be cutting edge and innovative, I have found really nothing.