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by: Daniel Gelinas - Thursday, September 30, 2010

I was going through my Google Alerts today and came across an intersting article from WIRED  about a new patent recently granted to Apple. The patent is for what WIRED argues is THE new use for biometrics: Personalization. WIRED says biometrics has been oversold and doesn't work all that well for security, but may be a perfect fit for personalization.

We've written about Apple and security before.

From the WIRED article:

"The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week granted Apple a patent for biometric-sensor handheld devices that recognize a user by the image of his or her hand. In the not-too-distant future, anyone in the house could pick up an iOS device — or a remote control or camera — and have personalized settings queued up just for them."

Okay, I get that. That sounds pretty cool. The article then goes on about how the new patent will "protect" devices... which sounds like security to me...

Then the article claims this new use for biometrics will differ from the over-promised but undelivered use of biometrics in access control.

"It’s a very different use of biometrics than we’ve seen in the movies. Hand and retina scanners have been touted for years as a futuristic gatekeepers to high-security buildings. This is usually a much-embellished version of their real-world use by businesses and government agencies for whom secrecy is a big deal. In the wider world, tiny fingerprint scanners have been built into laptops, but they aren’t widely used for the simple reason that they don’t work reliably enough.

"But while they might be insufficient for security, biometrics might work just fine for personalization. Suppose my family shares a future-generation iPad that supports multiple user profiles and a version of this sensor technology. When my wife or I pick it up, the mail application displays each of our inboxes separately. When our young son picks it up, only games and other approved applications are available. If guests or intruders pick it up, a guest profile would make none of your personal information immediately available to them."

Don't get me wrong, I see the cool factor of all this. I mean, extrapolate this use of biometrics out to the automobile: As soon as my hand touches the sensor in the door handle, the seats and mirrors automatically adjust to me, the sound system automatically sets to my personal music playlists and ear-splitting volume levels... That's pretty cool. But isn't assuring that my 3-year-old son only sees his pre-approved Wiggles videos on the iPad and not my classic horror movie collection a form of access control? Even it it's only access control of movie playlists? and isn't access control security? I would argue that biometric control of personalized settings is still security.

The article aslo mentions that biometrics has been oversold as "futuristic gatekeepers to high-security buildings." I wrote a story a while back about a security company that uses a suite of technologies, including biometrics to secure buildings. That company--FST21--was followed by SSN later in a story about a security integrator who was having luck with the solution.

What do you all think? Is there still room for biometrics in security, or is it all about the iPad from here?



by: Daniel Gelinas - Monday, September 27, 2010

I wrote a story recently about the settlement between Fontana and the local alarm association, the Inland Empire Alarm Association, which ended the two year long legal battle there. I just got off the phone with security industry attorney Les Gold over at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. Les was active in the litigation, but was unavailable for comment during the drafting of that story.

He let me know that the revised ordinance passed its second reading and forecasted that the announced settlement would be final on Oct. 22 after the 30-day waiting period was over. Fontana will pay the legal expenses it owes to the IEAA at that time.

Les also said the real positive impact on the industry (since the city settled with the IEAA, the case itself won't actually have any impact as a precident-setting case since it won't be a reported case), is in the assessment of fines.

"The important thing for us was that the old ordinance levied all the fines against the alarm company," Les told me. Such is not the case any more. "It's already having an impact. There were seven cities around the community who were all looking to do the same thing. Now none of them are going to do it because they know they'll loose. I think it will have an impact all over, a tremendous impact all over the country."

How does your municipality run things? Do they charge the alarm companies or the end users? Does your municipality require ECV? Do you do ECV already anyway? Drop by SSN's news poll on the subject and vote today!

by: Daniel Gelinas - Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I wrote a story back in late August about a lawsuit filed against Sonitrol Security by Core-Mark Midcontinent and it's insurers. The long and short of it was that Sonitrol lost and was judged to have been negligent. ADT, which owned Sonitrol Security back when the loss happened refused to comment since it "does not comment on ongoing litigation."

Here's some of what I wrote back then:

DENVER—Jurors here deliberated over the accumulated facts in an appeal case at the Colorado Court of Appeals and decided in favor of the co-plaintiffs in a nearly decade-long legal battle against Sonitrol Corp. The lawsuit stems from a 2001 fire in which a warehouse owned by co-plaintiff Core-Mark Midcontinent was broken into and burned. The original decision in the lawsuit was that Sonitrol Corp., because of the exculpatory clauses in its contract was only liable for $500 in damages. That decision was appealed, and the result of that appeal, announced on Aug. 18, is that the three co-plaintiffs—insurers Commonwealth Insurance and United States Fire Insurance, and the insured, food distributor Core-Mark Midcontinent—are now owed a total of $18.3 million. Pre-judgment interest of 8 percent per year in Colorado could add millions to that number, according to Cozen O'Connor, attorney for the insurance companies.

The real question now is who will be left footing that rather hefty bill?

Ken Kirschenbaum recently took a brief look at some of the language in the Sonitrol contracts and I thought it was interesting.

Here's some of what Ken had to say:

Where was the waiver of subrogation clause?  This is perhaps the most potent provision in the alarm contract because, as in this case, most cases against alarm companies are brought by insurance companies [incredibly some of the same insurance companies who write alarm errors and omission insurance].  A waiver of subrogation clause will put a stop to the case, but of course the defense attorneys need to raise the clause as a defense.  I could not imagine that the Sonitrol contract didn't have a waiver of subrogation.  Well guess what?  The contract is so poorly written that its hard to tell.  The contract has this provision:

    "Client hereby waives his right of recovery against Dealer for any loss covered by insurance on the premises or its contents to the extent permitted by any policy or by law."

    What the heck does that mean?  Does it sound like "Subscriber hereby waives any right of subrogation any insurance carrier may have against alarm company?"

    How hard was that to say?

Legalese is all Greek to me, but I thought it was interesting anyway. I assumed there must have been something wrong with the contracts that usually protect alarm companies from such cases as these.

By the way, Ken sells contracts for alarm companies... Check him out.

by: Daniel Gelinas - Monday, September 20, 2010

So the news isn't actually all that newsy... The judgment that the city of Fontana, Calif.'s 2008 ordinance was at least in part  unconstitutional was reached by the San Bernardino Superior Court in March 2010. Both sides in this ongoing battle (Fontana and the Inland Empire Alarm Association) appealed that ruling, initially.

However, a settlement has now been reached, according to published reports. (The San Bernardino Sun), and SSN wants to bring you the inside scoop on what this settlement means for the industry.

In a sign that the legal proceedings of the last two years may have taken their toll on everyone and convinced them that working together is much better than litigating at one another, the parties released a joint press release on Sept. 6.

Here's some of that release:

City of Fontana and Alarm Industry Reach Agreement on Alarm Management

Settlement Preserves Both Public Funds and Verified Police Response to Electronic Security Systems

FONTANA, Calif. – Sept. 6, 2010— The City of Fontana and the alarm industry, through the Inland Empire Alarm Association (IEAA), have reached an agreement to resolve their dispute over the City of Fontana’s 2008 alarm ordinance.  The agreement ends on-going litigation and allows both sides to move forward cooperatively to serve and protect the residents and business of Fontana.

The 2008 ordinance provided that the Fontana Police Department would not respond to burglar alarm notification calls from alarm companies unless there was some audio, video, or eyewitness verification that an actual break-in was about to or had occurred. If alarm companies inappropriately notified police of an alarm call without such verification, a fine was imposed on the alarm company. Some of the key provisions of the 2008 ordinance were found to be unconstitutional by the San Bernardino Superior Court in March 2010, while the Court affirmed the validity of other portions.  Both sides had appealed that ruling.

In the spirit of compromise, the parties mutually and amicably agreed to dismiss their appeals and instead agree on terms of a new alarm ordinance to replace the disputed 2008 ordinance.  The new alarm ordinance maintains verified response to burglar alarms while eliminating the provisions of the 2008 ordinance that the alarm industry contended were unlawful. It envisions a continuing cooperative relationship between the Police Department and the alarm companies to adjust the verification requirement for burglar alarms as alarm technology improves so alarm companies can continue to serve their customers and police can continue to improve their level of service to the people of Fontana.  IEAA has agreed that the terms of the settlement adequately satisfy Fontana’s obligations under the Superior Court’s March decision to forgo any refund of the fine money collected by the City of Fontana under the ordinance.

President of IEAA, Morgan Hertel says electronic security companies will also work with law enforcement on appropriate alarm response to reduce false alarms and to help conserve limited police resources.

So it sounds like both sides are giving a little and everyone's allowed to walk away with a little dignity. I actualy began writing a story about this turn of events last week, when I picked up the story in the San Bernardino Sun. That story should move on our wire soon, once our legal sources have a chance to look at the larger legal ramifications for the security industry.

Even though the two sides have come to an agreement and are working together, there have been compromises.

The new alarm ordinance maintains the verified response requirement, which the Fontana Police Department believes reduces incidents of false dispatch of police. It continues to provide for fines against alarm companies for requesting police dispatch without first verifying an actual emergency exists and will also impose fines on alarm companies for misrepresenting that verification took place.

I've been blogging a lot about verification lately. I think it's going to continue to be a pretty heavy topic going forward.

CAA past president and law enforcement liaison for SIAC Jon Sargent said other state alarm associations may begin combing through their ordinances. “It’s a pretty remarkable thing to have in writing that the ordinance here was unconstitutional and violated due process,” Sargent said. “I would think this is going to shake up everything.”

Sargent also said that the actual amount of money the city has spent on the legal battle with the Inland Empire Alarm Association is actually much more than this most recent settlement. “We’ve been through two lawsuits with them. We started back in August of 2007. That was after they put a very restrictive verified response police in place. So far they’ve had to pay more than $357,000 in lawyers’ fees to the association. That doesn’t include their own legal expenses. The first lawsuit in 2008, they paid over $184,000. And now there’s the $173,000,” Sargent said

Stay tuned to SSN for continuing coverage of this story, including interviews with representatives from SIAC, the IEAA and attorneys from Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, the law firm that's been working with the industry in this matter.

by: Daniel Gelinas - Tuesday, September 14, 2010

scratch I was going through my email this morning and came across my email newsletter from Ken Kirschenbaum. Today’s edition follows the theme of enhanced call verification and verification, in general. I found this edition particularly interesting because of a missive from Bart Didden over at U.S.A. Central Station Alarm Corp.

I’ve blogged about some of what Bart’s had to say in Ken’s forum before. Today Bart’s talking about verified alarms, in general and about Videofied, specifically. I’ve written a lot about both. The thrust of Bart’s address is that it’s perhaps self-defeating to market video (or audio, I assume) verified intrusion detection systems as eliciting a higher priority response from police than a normal intrusion detection system.

Here’s Bart’s entry on verified alarms:


I am happy as anyone else for the success of Videofied and yes we monitor that platform in our office. But I am concerned about the message that your e-mail distributes and the unintended consequence for the 30 million systems that have been installed and are in service in which the vast majority is doing what they were designed to do, detect the actions of an unknown person or persons.

My direct issue with the message and content is that I believe that Mr. Jentoft is saying that those 30 million systems are sub-standard or in Lee Jones (another way left of center self proclaimed industry professional who pontificates) words, frauds.

While I believe that we should embrace new technology, we can not place ourselves in such a position that we devalue the more traditional technology that was just installed. We should not allow a new class of customer to be created to receive a higher level of response service from municipal authorities as a sales tool when a properly designed and installed system without video is just if not more effective for the purpose at hand, detection.

Members of the industry and your list SHOULD NOT endorse or perpetuate this marketing scheme all at the detriment of the system they installed yesterday or last year that was not a Videofied system.

Bart’s letter is in response to an earlier posting from Keith:


This just came out in the magazine of the National Sheriffs Assn. I don’t think that law enforcement has ever endorsed an alarm product before, at least not officially.

I thought it might interest you,

In any case, I enjoy your morning reports.

Thank you for your support.

I see Bart’s point. And I see Keith’s point. The problem, though, is that the police generally ARE, in fact giving higher priority to an alarm that’s verified. Not just by Videofied, though. Most of the law enforcement officials to whom I’ve spoken on the topic admit that they’re in the business of apprehending criminals, so if an alarm signal comes in that assures there’s suspicious activity complete with a perp onsite, then the alarm is not just an alarm, it becomes a crime in progress, and police will respond with higher priority.

Bart is certainly not the only industry exec I’ve spoken with who questions the wisdom of marketing a verified system as better than a traditional system. When I was down in Dallas putting my recent market trends piece on verified alarms together, Mitch Clarke over at Monitronics, Ty Davis, formerly with Southwest Dispatch, and Stefan Rayner, Grant Graham and David Steinbrunner with NMC all expressed concern about devaluing the traditional intrusion system. I understand where they’re all coming from. I feel like this is a debate we’ve seen before and will see a lot of in the future.

The problem, though is that it’s not about Videofied or Sonitrol vs. traditional intrusion detection, it’s about a verified crime in progress vs. something may or may not be going on… If I can tell a police officer that I just saw someone break a window at the neighbor’s house and climb through, said officer is going to react more quickly and with higher priority than if a motion detector went off and we have no idea what set it off.

Mike Jagger over at Provident Security sends his security officers to every alarm he gets at his central station. That’s how Provident verifies its alarms.

I’ve also discussed police response to alarms before. The truth is that police are not required to respond to alarms. It’s a courtesy they pay to a private business. Their job is not to bring value to what a security company sells, it’s to uphold the law, apprehend bad guys and deter lawbreaking in the future.

I’m curious to hear what you, my readers, think? Is there a way to promote the benefits of a verified system without devaluing a non-verified, traditional system? Should all systems incorporate some kind of verification? Chime in and let me know your thoughts.

by: Daniel Gelinas - Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What scary things will the future bring to security?

What scary things will the future bring to security?

It seems like all I’ve been blogging about lately are the scary goings-on in the worlds of the Telcos, GSM and POTS (hence my sort of out there titular reference to the scary things (”Lions, Tigers and Bears! Oh my!”) Dorothy (in my sorta wacky metaphor, that’s you, faithful security industry readers) may or may not encounter on her way down the yellow brick road to Oz (that’s the unknown immediate future on the way to the sunny, eventual happily-ever-after that we all somehow believe in (perhaps naively)).

I wrote most recently about a lengthy GSM sunset discussion going on over at the Alarm Monitoring Group at Linked in. Before that I was speculating about Verizon. Just today, I received a comment on my colleague Martha’s recent telco-centered story on the latest telco partnerships.

The email was an unabridged version of a comment from Reliance Alarm Co.’s Lou Arellano, III. Lou, not surprisingly had a beef with SSN’s 500 character limit on story comments. Firstly, thanks Lou for sticking it out and getting your comments through via email. We appreciate your readership and attention.

Here’s what Lou had to say:

Telcos have been drooling over alarm service RMR for all of my 30 years in the business.

In the late 1980s (The “Old”) AT&T marketed a wireless system that it subsequently abandoned in the early 90’s. AT&T handed off the remainder of the 11-year statutory required repair support to a California company and left the market place altogether.

Bell of PA/Bell Atlantic entered the market in the ’80’s with an alarm transport system called REACT, which was designed to be UL compliant using a polling terminal at the head end and a Subscriber Terminal Unit (”STU”) at the subscriber premises. The signal was superimposed on a POTS line in similar manner to the current DSL, although the polls and data were audible bursts. The supervision shifted to a subaudible tone when the subscriber’s phone was off-hook. Had REACT been sufficiently reliable it might well have succeeded, but it only served to demonstrate and bring into sunshine the fact that the PSTN, even back then, was hardly up 24/7 although IMO was a lot more reliable than it is today. Unfortunately REACT itself, apart from the normal PSTN, had its own unique set of problems resulting more frequent and annoying outages than the problematic and costly copper leased lines it was supposed to replace. It created a lot of service calls and constant worry for us. (Déjà vu). REACT was phased out after a relatively short life cycle, partly due to the advent of cellular solutions.

Fortunately, these entries were focused on the manufacturing and transport modes, leaving the difficult and labor-intensive system design, sales, installation, monitoring and repair service to us.

There is little reason to think they will forget these lessons unless they can fully automate the central station process and make the system so reliable and so easy to deploy that a dedicated army of technicians and support people won’t be necessary; or the profits justify an extensive infrastructure, as observed with cellular phone service.

They should also be concerned about their existing transport revenues being yanked out or lost through attrition by angry alarm companies shifting to suppliers and technology that are not their direct competitors. (For example, I refuse to buy fuel oil from a fuel company that now sells alarms.)

Perhaps someone from the central station business will share their perspective with us?

An interesting contribution to the discussion, Lou. The thing to remember, and I feel you address this well, is that just because they’ve tried and failed before does not mean they will fail again. Telcos have changed and grown vis-a-vis power, influence and financing. The next try at security may very well see a telco “make the system so reliable and so easy to deploy that a dedicated army of technicians and support people won’t be necessary.” One never knows.

So how about it, central station readers? Do any of you have a perspective on all this you’d care to share?

by: Daniel Gelinas - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

gmssunsetIn the age of an imminent POTS sunset, Security Systems News has looked at communications pathway alternatives. We’ve looked at broadband and we’ve looked at GSM. We’ve looked at alternatives. In our rooting around and scooping we uncovered some possible disturbing truths about the current GSM communications standard. We wrote about it and we conducted a well-participated-in poll about it back in the August issue.

Over the past couple months, I’ve noticed a real discussion going on through the social media outlet LinkedIn (if you’re still sitting there thinking social media is just MySpace and for teenie-boppers to post drunken party pics and posters of their favorite hip-hop stars… well, you’re only partly right… but seriously, catch up and start taking advantage of this multifaceted business intelligence tool). The Alarm Monitoring Group, of which I’m a member has hosted a lengthy discussion of a possible GSM sunset.

Following is a rundown of the chatter.

It all started two months ago when Bold Technologies president Rod Coles asked if anyone knew anything about the possible sunset of GSM.

I have heard that GSM is going to be phased out, has anyone else heard about this. Does anyone know the time-line and how it might affect our industry?

This simple question has elicited a string of 22 responses. This is obviously an important discussion and one people care bout.

Mace CSSS’ Morgan Hertel spoke up next.

There is no defined time line but those closely connected seem to think that 2G and 2.5G will likely phase out in the next 5-7 years with 3G and 4G continuing on.

Clearly this will effect the industry to a point, but the industry needs to understand that technology is moving fast and there is no forever when it comes to communication methods, eventually we will be using IPV6, so we will have to replace the legacy ethernet, POT’s will be gone or unusable in the next 5-7 years as well.

Morgan raises a valid point about technology. We’re entering into a period where technological advances will probably outpace our marketing departments’ abilities to wring maximum ROI out of each new permutation. In geeky science fiction circles (such as the ones I inhabit in my free time), this point of exponentially increasing technological advancement is sometimes known as the singularity.

Rod came back with a valid response.

So how do you avoid paralysis? There is no wide scale alternative to GSM right now, but customers will be concerned about installing technology that will be replaced. Alarm systems have traditionally been installed and then left for decades!

I assume CDMA is going the same way?

Part of the problem here is that the security industry has grown up with a pretty much five nines dependable communications medium that hasn’t changed much till now: the PSTN and POTS service. With the communications technology continually advancing, the industry will have to develop a new business model based on upgraded tech whenever it becomes available. It means more homework for the integrator, but ultimately more contact and opportunity to prove value, as well.

Morgan responded to Rod’s concerns and addressed the quickening technological advances and the need to adapt:

Not sure how an industry evolves… We know that cell phone providers have the entire handset base change in 6 years or less, no one has a cell phone for more then a few years, in fact not many people have a TV more then that now.

The alarm industry has enjoyed a much longer time in the field, but that has to change and in many cases it has, control panels today are 25% of what they were in the 70’s and many now have modular communicators that will be field replaceable when the time comes.

Right now 2G and 2.5G GSM modules are really inexpensive but 3G modules cost more than most control panels do in the $100 range, 4G modules are over $300 even in bulk, dealers are not going to pay for these today, over time they will be cheaper because of the volume.

CDMA will move to WiMax for Sprint and LTE (Long Term Evolution) for Verizon, the good new is that these platforms will share the same hardware but will only have different software so that panel manufacturers will only have to stock 2 types of hardware.

The only other way to deal with not having to replace communication platforms will be to either invest in systems like AES or for the alarm industry to invest in satellite systems that will be up for a much longer period in time because if we continue to ride on the back of other technologies then we will have to deal with the changes and evolution that are thrown our way.

In the mean time dealers, central stations and automation vendors need to be aware of the upcoming changes and plan accordingly.

Well put, Morgan. I actually spoke with AES‘ Mike Sherman a while back and we discussed the communications pathway at length. I was actually speaking with my colleague, Martha and UP publisher Tim Purpura the other day and I was speculating that the development of a communications pathway owned and controlled by the industry and used specifically for alarm signal transmission and associated data (video, two-way voice, etc…) would maybe be the next big thing, maybe with the birth of a new association.

Monitor This! regular commenter Steve Nutt then threw in some input:

It’s strange to think that the hundreds of thousands of 2G cellular devices being installed today may have to be replaced in 5-7 years time. I’m sure a lot of customers would think twice about installing 2/2.5G cellular equipment if they knew about the looming sunset.

It’s hard to imagine that the 2G sunset will be upon us before the POTS sunset, so it’s certainly something that the security industry should be made aware of. Thanks for the Heads Up Rod - I have to admit that this was the first I had heard of it.

Roger Kay from the UK’s Northern Monitoring Services chimed in next.

It’s interesting that the big problem facing PSTN (POTS) in the UK - the BT 21 Century Network rollout - has been put on hold by BT basically because it’s too costly to implement. We’re actually seeing a small shift to Installers actually increasing their fitment of 2G GSM communicators because of the problems with round trip delay caused by Least Cost Routing and other issues on the PSTN network meaning that Digital Communicators are dialing multiple times (increasing end user telephony costs), or in some cases not connecting to the ARC’s RX’s.

To which Steve Nutt had a response…

Hi Roger,

Yes, 21CN was a flop - just like the England soccer team ;-)

Interesting how installers are using GSM as opposed to IP.

That is a good point… not about England’s soccer team, about which I know nothing, but about the tendancy toward GSM rather than IP… IP’s certainly the pathway that’s getting the most development dollars from the government.

Morgan had some things to say about the somewhat concurrent sunsetting of POTS and 2G GSM.

POT’s is already sunsetting, either by market forces or social habits but its alreay going away at 700,000 lines a month. 2G will sunset over the next 5-7 years only because as more mobile devices get out there carriers will need the spectrum to operate.

As long as manufacturers work on engineering repalceable and/or scaleable RF componants this will not be to difficult, it will be short truck roll to deal with it.

Steve came back with a question about VoIP, which many consumers are going to for phone service.

At 700,000 a month - why are we all still in the alarm business when we should be in the VoIP business?

How many landlines are still out there in the USA and how long will it take to remove them all at a rate of 700K a month?

Steve is, of course, referencing the numbers from AT&T’s report to the FCC concerning the POTS sunset timetable. Morgan raised a valid point next:

Not sure, that’s AT&T’s published number, keep in mind that this includes things like Verizon selling off residential service on the east side, and AT&T moving millions of customers to U-Verse etc.

POTS may not have an official sunset but like platform shoes its going out of style quickly.

What’s wrong with platform shoes? I’m only 5 feet 6-and-a-half inches… I need every edge I can get. Basically, though, none of us has a crystal ball. However, we can be sure that people nowadays want the “next big thing,” especially when it comes to tech.

Steve threw down next with some speculation.

As I have had more time to digest the fact that both POTS & 2G are definitely on their way out, it has started too sink in that this is HUGE for the security industry. Luckily, Dan Gelinas from Security Systems News is already onto it and I’m confident that he will not let this news drop too far from the headlines.

There are two ways that this news will be handled by the industry. Firstly, there will be people like myself, Rod, Dan, Morgan and others that will not sit comfortably with promoting a technology that is expected to sunset in 5-7 years. Then there are the ones who will see this as a money making opportunity whereby they can upgrade POTS systems with 2G systems knowing full well that they will have to upgrade them again in the not too distant future.

This is where bodies like the CSAA and others can justify their existence and educate the industry - just like they did with the AMPS sunset and when VoIP appeared on the scene.

Good points, Steve. Now is the time for all members of the industry to get informed and educated. The associations are a great place to start, as is SSN, your best bet for real news.

Morgan came back with his opinion on using soon-to-be-obsolete communications pathways and reiterated some of what I’ve already said: The industry is using someone else’s ideal communications pathway… there are going to be problems and there is going to be evolution. What the industry needs to do is get educated and communicate with the end users and take advantage of the opportunity for more contact. He also makes clear that everyone has a part to play.

I am not apposed to using 2g devices knowing they will sunset in 5-7 years, I think that would be an unfair statement, what I do think is that the alarm industry as long as they are knowingly going to be riding on someone else’s communication platform will have to understand that technology is moving quickly.

2g is evolving to 3g, 3g will evolve to 4g, IPv4 is evolving to IPv6, its all changing all time, there is no forever.

The industry enjoyed 20+ years of dialers, but the next round won’t go for 20 years, probably 10, which is why everyone needs to understand this.

Most of the manufacturers have gone back to modular communicators, so next round you will just swap that out.

Consumers are starting to understand this, that’s why they get new phones ever few years, this will just extend to the alarm communications platform.

What our industry needs to do is tell consumers the facts, that they can expect to have to upgrade the platform every 7-10 years, smart marketers will start to build this into monthly fees and loyalty programs just like the phone carriers.

Where we run into trouble as group is that many sit back and say this will never happen, they don’t plan, they don’t train and when it finally gets to the 11th hour it’s panic time.

Central stations play a big part in this but so do manufacturers, reps and other vendors.

Yours truly chimed in briefly to let the discussion contributors know SSN was, in fact on the case.

Hey guys,

interesting discussion here. (Thanks for the vote of confidence, Steve! :-)) You’ll be glad to know SSN is doing a market trends piece for the August issue on the GSM sunset, SSN/SDN executive editor Sam Pfeifle’s working tirelessly on it now.

Steve went on to agree with Morgan that the best policy is honesty… especially when dealing with the end user who’s hopefully going to continue paying you your RMR. He also mentions the exponentially increasing importance of social connection as something that will drive a failure proof communications pathway so that everyone is always connected.

That’s good Dan. Just the exposure something like this needs.

Morgan is right in that our industry needs to tell consumers the facts so that they can expect to have to upgrade the platform every 7-10 years. As long as consumers are kept informed, then there are no nasty surprises when the sunset finally comes along.

We already have a dualpath IP/3G product but with 3G rates at their current level of around $30 per month, it is not affordable for the majority of the residential sector. We advise our Dealers that it is only really useful for commercial customers that must have a redundant Internet connection for business continuity purposes. In other words, the cost of the wired DSL connection and the wireless 3G connection are valid business operational expenses and the alarm transmission paths are considered free as they just piggy back on what is in place already.

I see the potential for two things to speed the demand for 3G. The first is widespread industry adoption of video verification. As video images become a more integral part of an overall security solution, the risk of images not being able to reach the CS will become unacceptable. 3G is the most suitable backup path.

The second is a strange one - Social Networking. It is so incredibly powerful, I have a suspicion that the younger generation will soon consider a loss of Internet connectivity unacceptable and many will start using combined DSL/3G modems/routers for fear of “social suicide” (my teenage kids taught me that one).

Telular’s Shawn Welsh had a lot to say about GSM communications.

I thought I’d add this small thought to this topic. The carriers are not commenting on this topic and it is somewhat alarmist to suggest that these networks are disappearing or “sunsetting” in the US in five years.

Yes, Gordon Hope (Honeywell’s Alarmnet), in the SSN article suggested this was his opinion, but read this link, do a little extra research and form your own.

Something else to consider, the telematics and energy sectors (longer product lives than security) have all committed to using GSM in their products. Carriers would have had a very hard time selling these systems if they were preparing to shut them down in 2015.

True enough Shawn. The longevity of the pathway will most likely depend on how much money is being spent on its maintenance.

Steve addressed the situation with a few future-looking questions. He makes the point that all of this at the end of the day will be consumer driven. If the people who pay for it, don’t want it or want something different, that’s what will mater. Where the dollar’s spent will make the decision.

Fair comment Shawn, you may very well be right and 2G may hang in there for a long time to come. The truth is, none of us really know for sure.

POTS may also stick around a lot longer than we think, but because VoIP provides consumers with a much richer experience, they are not waiting to find out. The days when a Telco can dictate the terms and tell consumers to “put up or shut up” are long gone. It’s easy to vote with your feet these days.

Getting back to the future of GSM - does anyone think Google, Apple and RIM are busy thinking up ground-breaking new ways to use SMS on their phones, or developing apps targeted at GPRS?

Does anyone think that today’s 18-year-old kids will have any interest in browser-less phones that only allow you to make calls and send SMS when they are setting up businesses and buying homes within the next 5 years?

I very much doubt it. 2G may still be around, but it will be of little interest to many. Forget terrorism, or world war III - if kids are still unable to watch YouTube videos on their phones within the next few years due to bandwidth constraints, we’re all in trouble!

Whether or not the rejection of 2G will spill over to the alarm monitoring industry is anyone’s guess. My personal view is that if we ever truly get out of this recession and video verification kicks in, then the days of unsupervised, 2G cellular alarm monitoring solutions will be numbered. They will cease to provide value to the consumer.

Finally, Simon Cross from the UK’s Becatech chimed in with a challenge to see this as an opportunity. How can security totally reinvent itself?

If you think the alarm industry will have problems with the demise of 2G think of all the M2M operators out there with thousands of SIM’s managing their machines. It’s interesting that they can see whats happening. I saw a coke machine a year ago that had an Internet access screen that was delivering media messages and adverts and was an internet terminal for people to use. Also it had voip telephony and a cash machine. Now that is smart. The whole technology change had been turned into a profit engine.

What value can one add to a 3G alarm SIM. Pico cell? Internet? CCTV ? Home Automation, Weather reporting, Fully monitored 24/7 system for freezers in retail etc etc etc …..Lets get our thinking caps on and take a grudge purchase alarm system that only brings you bad news into something useful that delivers benefits through adding value.

Come on guys ….what do you think!

Rod then jumped back in and questioned the validity of phasing GSM out.

I wonder if there is a valid reason for phasing it out, i realize everything has a life cycle, but supporting old “stuff” isn’t always a problem, if you don’t change it and it doesn’t fail then whats the big deal?

For example we have just shy of 400 customers on our Alarm monitoring software, about 350 are on our Windows Manitou platform but about 50-ish are on our old legacy Theos software. I have decided to continue to support the legacy software, it doesn’t ever change so it is very stable. Ultimately the hardware is more difficult to find for it, and as the user base decreases the cost per user gets higher, ultimately there will be a point it doesn’t make sense.

So I wonder why GSM is being phased out, is the decision for technical reasons or commercial, and who ultimately has the decision to make? It can’t be because of usage, as there are millions of units.

Morgan answers that question neatly, pointing out that the winner will be the one the people want. And they vote with their money.

GSM 2.0 and 2.5 will phase out because of demand, while M2M may have have 100’s of thousands of subscribers at $3 to $5 per month the real money is in the millions of handheld users averaging a $100 a month. its not complicated math.

But to Rod’s specific question is that unlike your example with Theos, the pipe or spectrum available in very finite.

Imagine a toll road with 6 lanes, the first 4 of the lanes are dirt and mud and have lots of holes and bogs and the only vehicles that can do down those roads are big heavy slow tractors, the last two lanes are freshly paved roads, fast enough to go a 100 mph.

The consumer wants to go faster down the road, they are parking the tractors that only go 10 mph and getting sports cars. The carriers need to pave all the lanes in order to make the consumer happy and since they only get paid by the vehicle the carrier is has to pave the roads to make everyone happy,

The other problem is that the tractors cant drive on the paved roads because they slow down everyone else so ultimately if you want to take that road you will have to do it in a sports car.

This is non technical comparison but spectrum costs billions of dollars, annually and there is only so much room, just like lanes, so carriers have to follow the money to keep the consumer and stockholders happy.

Shawn agreed with Morgan, but questioned the speed with which the phase out will occur.

Morgan, I love your analogy because I just used a very close variant of it a month ago at the Rapid Response Users Group to explain this very topic. You’re right the technology is going to phase out one day and the frequencies they occupy will be needed in the future.

I just disagree on the timing.

We have over 500,000 cellular customers and we are very concerned about planning for this specific issue. Our partner, AT&T, is working on a comprehensive technology road map for their plans on each deployment’s life cycle. I can only say that currently they don’t have an official comment, but they seem to suggest the the time frame is more like 10 plus years.

My earlier comments on the telematics and energy sectors providing some protection to a sunset is that I understand they have negotiated contractual obligations for these networks to remain in operation for a specific term.

Also, Steve, your are right that people love data hungry applications; however, SMS–though it isn’t sexy–is the most successful data application in the world and is a HUGE money maker for the industry. Every specification under consideration for deployment offers support for SMS, even LTE.

Compelling words Shawn, and compelling numbers.

Regardless of when it might happen, I think the important, repeated theme here is that technological change is not only imminent, but will be ongoing and probably exponential. The best thing anyone in the industry can do is stay educated, stay involved and stay fearless in the face of evolution.

The alternative is extinction.

by: Daniel Gelinas - Monday, August 30, 2010

siac_logo_new-300x144Just got an email (via my colleague Martha) from Shane Sumrow over at The Margulies Communications Group.

Looks like SIAC’s stepping up its social media networking endeavors in its efforts to combat false dispatches.

I can vouch for the veracity of the stepped up LinkedIn presence, as I just got linked to SIAC’s Stan Martin this morning. Well done guys.

From the SIAC release:

The Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC) is stepping up its efforts to reach law enforcement, citizens and companies in the security industry by adopting several new social media tools. As part of its outreach program, SIAC is now plugged into three social networking tools – Twitter, LinkedIn and WordPress. Short messages will be frequently delivered via Twitter. LinkedIn will connect users with SIAC services. At WordPress, SIAC will blog on successful alarm reduction techniques and invite discussion and comments from viewers.

I’ve sort of been doing that for SIAC, too, by the way. I’ve written numerous stories and blog posts about false alarm reduction efforts and about SIAC.

It’s nice to be connected to Stan, finally, I must admit.

Check out their efforts and keep up with important world of false alarm reduction.

“We’re tremendously excited about where we’re headed and the value we provide our sponsors, local communities and the security industry. These new social media tools will help us educate key individuals and organizations on alarm management issues, and increase our investment in proven solutions,” Stan said in the release.

Follow SIAC on Twitter!

Get connected to SIAC through LinkedIn!

Read about false alarm reduction efforts at SIAC’s blog!

by: Daniel Gelinas - Wednesday, August 25, 2010

curtailedresponse1An Aug. 24 story from USA Today reports police nationwide are beginning to curtail response to certain types of calls they view as lower priority. The story doesn’t deal specifically with alarms or false alarms or the security industry, but it does list among the demoted call types burglary and theft.

The story mentions three municipalities (which, I guess, provide us with a large enough sampling to stand in for the whole country…?): Tulsa, Okla., Oakland, Calif. and Norton, Mass. Faithful readers of mine will recall I did a story on Oakland late last year.

The story quotes OPD media relations officer Holly Joshi expounding on Oakland’s new trimmed response guidelines:

If you come home to find your house burglarized and you call, we’re not coming.

… Well … that seems pretty clear. My question, though, is does this policy extend to any call that can not be verified to be reporting a crime in progress? I put out a call to Holly in the media relations office and also one to the OPD’s False Alarm Reduction Unit, headed up by Antone Hicks with whom I spoke last year.

Neither of those calls have yet been returned. I’ll follow up with an edit or a new post should I hear back.

To be fair I should mention the USA Today piece is not saying (and the police are not saying) that police are discontinuing response to higher priority calls:

Cutbacks in such places as Oakland, Tulsa and Norton, Mass. have forced police to tell residents to file their own reports — online or in writing — for break-ins and other lesser crimes.

The USA Today story addresses a problem I’ve heard from every police officer I’ve spoken to in the two years since I’ve been here: Police just don’t have the budgets to do everything they’re expected to do. So they’re looking at how they can cut costs, including layoffs and retirements (80 in Oakland and 110 in Tulsa just recently, according to USA Today), cutting services, and enforcing ordinances no matter what it takes.

Interesting times.

by: Daniel Gelinas - Monday, August 23, 2010
operatortime1I was going through my email this morning and came across a call for help from Mark Simpson, manager of central station alarm monitoring services at San Francisco-based RFI Security. RFI Security is a “diversified multi-systems integrator that has been designing, installing, servicing and monitoring, technology-driven security and fire/life safety solutions for over thirty years.”

Anyway, Mark posted a request to CSAA’s ACCENT listserv. Mark said he was looking for input from his fellows at central stations out there to help come up with and industry standard for operator response time.

One of the metrics we have started to grade our central station on this year is Operator Response Time. This is the average amount of time that elapses between an alarm first hitting the automation buffer and when it is actually retrieved by an operator for processing.

Seems to me that that would be a valuable piece of information for any central station to have.

We measure average response time for fire and burglar alarms separately, to account for the difference in priority, and we also look at response times averaged by the day of the week, and by hour of the day.

Again, useful information for a central station manager to have in order to assess performance and know where they stand compared to days, weeks, months and years past. It would help in gauging progress. But wouldn’t it be neat to know where your organization stood compared to the rest of the industry?

If your central station also measures operator response time, would you be willing to share your numbers (privately)? We have been measuring against ourselves, but we would like to determine if there is an industry baseline we can compare ourselves to. Obviously no two centrals are the same, and number of accounts vs number of dispatchers can swing the numbers one way or another, but the larger the data pool the better. I would like to compile as many responses as possible and then share the results amongst those who participate.

If you would like to participate, please let me know.


I like to see that… Folks in the industry reaching out to each other, comparing notes to generate useful metrics so that everyone can function better. Nice work Mark.

Anyone interested in participating in the Operator Response Time metrics project can contact Mark via email or phone at 408-882-4260 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              408-882-4260      end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

If you’re interested in getting on the ACCENT listserv, reach out to Grace Fanzo over at CSAA.