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ACA acquires in Alabama

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Smooth. That’s how Alarm Capital Alliance described a recent transaction that added more than 1,000 accounts to its existing account base in Alabama.

ACA, a Media, Pa.-based independently-owned company that acquires and manages security alarm contracts, acquired the accounts through an asset purchase transaction with Ultimate Security of Scottboro, Ala., according to a news release issued last week.

Ultimate Security will stay in business and continue to service ACA customers, according to the Aug. 7 release.

In the release, Kelly Bond, VP of sales and marketing for ACA, remarked, “This was one of the smoothest transactions that we’ve entered into.”

Ultimate President Richie Burns said in a prepared statement that this is a “tremendous transaction that allows us to remain in business, continue to sell accounts and provide service for all of our friends and customers.”

Bond said, “Richie has a great staff and quality accounts, and we’re looking forward to a prosperous relationship.”

Terms were not disclosed. Ron Davis, of Davis Mergers and Acquisitions Group, represented the seller.

3G vs. 4G: AT&T’s ‘sunset’ fuels debate

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

While AT&T has finally set a date and ended the discussion over when it will push 2G into the sunset, the points of contention grow sharper over 3G versus 4G and the merits of each for cellular alarm communication.

Boiling down the argument to its simplest terms, this much is clear: Technology touted as 4G is faster and more expensive. But is that extra speed worth the money, and more importantly for alarm dealers, will it contribute to longevity in the field? And what is “real” 4G anyway?

On Monday, I talked with two industry experts who couldn’t be further apart on the issue: Gordon Hope, general manager of AlarmNet at Honeywell, and Shawn Welsh, vice president of marketing and business development for Telguard. Both made what seemed to be valid arguments, although I confess I’m not qualified to comment on the technical merits of each. What I can do is define HSPA (High Speed Packet Access), HSPA+ (evolved HSPA), and LTE (Long Term Evolution), and offer a bit of what each man had to say:

Hope: “I don’t know whether it’s accidental or intentional, but it seems like our industry is mixing 3G and 4G together in one sentence. In reality, there’s clearly a difference—the carriers delineate it. HSPA+ and LTE from AT&T’s perspective are legitimate 4G technologies, and everything else isn’t.”

Welsh: “At a recent webinar, AT&T and Qualcomm both basically reiterated this statement: 4G is the same as 3G, it just costs more. To get down to the letter version of that, HSPA+ is the same thing as HSPA as it relates to longevity, it’s just that HSPA+ costs more.”

Hope: “We believe the best thing to do is to move up and provide a 4G radio, not stopping at 3G. HSPA+ is a 4G technology … it’s just plain faster. In AT&T’s announcement [about 2G], they even made statements that a third of their postpaid subscriber base is already using 4G technology, not 3G. That speaks to the fact that if you’re not thinking about 4G, you’re probably going to leave yourself shortchanged if you stopped at 3G network capability in the radio module you chose. We went through the additional expense to include HSPA+ 4G technology in our radio. We believe it’s going to directly translate into longevity on the wall.”

Welsh: “There’s a thought that 4G is somehow better than 3G and that somehow it will be around longer, because certainly each generation will be around longer than the previous generation. In this case it’s a misnomer, because 4G as it relates to HSPA+ is really a marketing trick, unfortunately. … What happened was that AT&T and Verizon both went out and bought up spectrum in order to deploy real 4G called LTE. And 4G LTE got a certain level of throughput—it was really fast. Well, T-Mobile did not get spectrum, so they were stuck having to advertise 3G when their major competitors were going to start advertising true 4G LTE. So they simply did what a marketing organization might do. They just said, ‘Hey, you know what? This new 3G HSPA+ is so fast it goes just as fast as that LTE they’re going to deploy, so you know what we’re going to do? Let’s just call ourselves 4G. All that really matters is the speed anyway.’ So overnight they rebranded themselves as 4G in order to compete with the marketing term of 4G LTE. And literally that’s what happened. AT&T was forced to start calling their HSPA+ network— which was really just a 3G network—a 4G network in order to compete with the marketing spin T-Mobile was putting on things. And that’s how we got 4G as it relates to HSPA+.”

Hope went on to say that while speed traditionally hasn’t been important to the alarm industry, it will play a bigger role in attracting future generations of consumers who will be loading their tablets and smartphones with security applications and a whole lot more. Welsh reiterated that longevity will remain the top priority for alarm dealers, and “from a cost standpoint, HSPA+ is a more expensive solution for the exact same longevity.”

For the record, the International Telecommunication Union states on its website that the only “true 4G technologies” are LTE Advanced and WirelessMAN Advanced, neither of which has been deployed on a large scale. The ITU goes on to say, however, that the term 4G may also be applied “to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third-generation systems now deployed.”

That sounds like a gray area open to commercial and consumer interpretation, but there's no arguing this point: Alarm dealers with radios on AT&T’s 2G networks will have to upgrade by 2017 or they’ll be left in the dark. The fadeout due to spectrum harvesting will accelerate before then, so sooner is probably better than later. Then it's just a question of sorting out the Gs.

Lowe’s Iris: Boon or bane in fight against false alarms?

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On one hand, it’s hard not to see the appeal of Lowe’s new Iris home management system. It’s do-it-yourself for those with the dexterity to install a thermostat, it’s cloud-based so homeowners can control and check on their properties remotely, and it’s inexpensive: starter kits range from $179 to $299, and there are no monthly fees for those who choose to do their own alarm monitoring.

On the other hand, how many homeowners are really prepared to be their own central station?

Sarah-Frances Wallace, a Lowe’s spokeswoman, recently touted the self-monitoring aspect of Iris in an interview with SSN's Tess Nacelewicz. Wallace said homeowners “can respond appropriately” when they receive a security alert, using an Iris camera to see “if there’s an intruder in your home that would require police response … or if it’s the dog knocking something over.”

Wallace said DIY monitoring helps avoid the problem of false alarms, for which many municipalities now charge homeowners a penalty. “This kind of gives the homeowner more control over triggered alarm events in the home,” she said.

But what happens when the homeowner decides the alarm is legit, they call 911, police respond and they find nothing amiss? What happens when the scenario gets played out three or four times in a month at the same residence? Do you think the municipality is going to continue to absorb the cost of dispatching officers and cruisers?

Ask any alarm company owner and I think you'll get a consistent response to that. Municipal budgets are tight and they're only going to get tighter. Just because a professional wasn't involved in the installation and monitoring of a system doesn't mean local officials are suddenly going to forgive and forget when it comes to false alarms.

For homeowners who want a little help when it comes to dealing with alerts from their Iris system, Lowe's offers a self-monitoring service for $9.99 a month. "You can set it up so if there's a triggered event in your home, it would email [or text or call] your neighbor … [or a] small network of people you'd want to receive notification of events," Wallace told SSN.

The service is ideal "if you're on vacation and you receive a notification that there is an event in your home," she said. "You could contact your neighbor—because they've also received [the notification]—and they could look into it for you."In a perfect world, it all ends well. If a pet triggered the alarm and the neighbor happens to be around to make that determination, everyone sleeps easy that night. But what if it wasn't Fido who did the deed and it's an intruder instead? What happens when the neighbor walks headlong into that situation?

Hello, Ken Kirschenbaum.

The point is, there are times when it pays to do things yourself and times when it pays to let professionals handle it. Again, it's hard to dispute the appeal of Lowe's Iris system for many people and for many applications. But should home security be one of them? Let the buyer beware.

Devcon’s new operations center to shut its doors in September

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I reported this summer that Devcon Security, a Hollywood, Fla.-based super-regional, was planning to shut down its new 23,000-square-foot national operations center in Irving, Texas by the end of the year.

Now it appears the closing will take place next month. Devcon plans to close the facility Sept. 5, laying off 197 employees, according to a report this week by the Dallas Business Journal. The facility opened in February 2011.

CEO Steve Hafen previously told me that closing the center was part of a company plan to reduce expenses and strengthen the company’s finances for future profitability and growth.

The company also is closing branches nationwide, a reversal of a rapid expansion it had recently undergone. In the past 18 months, Devcon, acquired by San Francisco-based Golden Gate Capital in 2009, transformed itself into a national player with more than 50 branches around the nation.

Hafen previously told me: “Devcon has experienced many changes over the past 18 months, including an aggressive growth initiative and subsequent streamlining of some branch operations.” He said then a reduction in the company’s workforce was anticipated.

The business journal reported that Devcon issued a statement saying that it “has aimed to, and has already made progress on, helping displaced employees transition into new opportunities through job fairs and résumé assistance programs. Devcon Security believes that these changes, while challenging, will strengthen the company and enable more opportunities for those in the industry long term.”

Who will buy AlarmForce?

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

AlarmForce, a super-regional security company based in Toronto, announced that its board of directors is taking a look at selling the company. The company has hired Imperial Capital to help it with a possible sale.

The company's market cap value today is listed as $135m and its enterprise value is $119m.

I asked Richard Ginsburg, former CEO of Protection One who is now managing partner at G3 Capital Partners, what he thought about the sale of AlarmForce. He said he thought the company is well run and that CEO Joel Matlin "has done a fabulous job of identifying a segment of the market open to value-oriented products (like their new video offering) at prices that are at or lower in comparison to traditional systems with basic offerings."

Ginsburg also said he believes "a company like AlarmForce is in a great position to compete with the likes of industry leader ADT and the emerging cable and telecom companies because of [AlarmForce's] single-minded focus on enhanced services like two-way voice and now video services." He added that he believes "some of the traditional companies are in a weaker position to compete in comparison."

Ginsburg predicted the company will get "good interest"  and said Imperial Capital has "formed a great niche in the M&A sector so they are a good choice [to help out with a sale.]"

The last time I spoke to CEO Joel Matlin was back in the winter of 2010 when he was opening a fourth office in Minneapolis/St. Paul.It has offices in North Carolina (opened in 2005), Ohio (opened in January 2006)  and it opened an office in Georgia in 2007.

AlarmForce does security alarm monitoring, personal emergency response monitoring, video surveillance for resi and commercial customers. Something that’s unique about AlarmForce is that it manufactures and installs its own two-way voice home alarm systems. When I did that interview, AlarmForce had 103,000 accounts in Canada and the U.S., which Matlin told me was up from 56,700 accounts in 2006. Today the number of accounts is closer to 125,000.

“Canada is a tough country to do business in. It’s got a population the same as the state of the California, but it’s spread out over a country that’s much larger than the U.S.,” Matlin said. In addition to dense population centers that are easier to penetrate, “the perception of crime is stronger in the U.S. than it is in Canada.”

Wonder who some potential buyers might be? One possiblitiy, in my opinion would be Stanley, which expanded its resi business in Canada last summer with the purchase of Microtec Security Systems. It got 80,000 accounts and additional bi-lingual monitoring capability out of the deal.

Or I suppose AlarmForce could be a bolt-on for a telecom that’s getting into the security business. Rogers Communications maybe? Here’s a video from the summer of 2011 where we talk about Rogers Communications working (in secret!) with iControl to get into the security industry.  And here’s a story about the deal.

AlarmForce board of directors has formed a committee of independent directors to supervise the strategic review.

 

Battered but unbowed

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wayne Wahrsager’s New York Merchants Protective Co. Inc.—an alarm company in existence for more than 100 years—is no more as the result of a $20 million breach-of contract lawsuit filed against the company and Wahrsager last year by Bank of America.

But Wahrsager tells me he is still very much a player in the security industry—and planning to launch a new alarm company in October with $50 million in funding behind it.

“You just brush yourself off and start all over,” he told me this week.

It seems that what Wahrsager experienced over the past year and half would have had most people down for the count.

First, in January 2011, came the Bank of America lawsuit contending it was owed more than $19.2 million for the default of a loan.

Then, four months later, Wahrsager got fired from his job as president of NYMP and pretty much literally got thrown out of the company’s Freeport, N.Y.-based office by the receiver a judge appointed to run the company. The receiver changed the locks at the office to keep Wahrsager out but he just took his office door off its hinges and continued coming to work until a judge ordered him gone that May.

Then, last October, the judge approved the sale of NYMP’s assets to pay off creditors. The sale to Professional Security Technologies of New Jersey was completed earlier this year, Wahrsager told me.

He’d been involved NYMP since 1988, but the previous owners were cousins so it was a family business that turned 100 years old in 2010, he said.

Wahrsager contends that the company went for far less than it was worth, and that if Bank of America had been willing to work with him, he would have repaid the loan “100 cents on the dollar.” He said he’s still a named defendant in the lawsuit, which is still pending.

But Wahrsager said he’s working as a consultant for Bellmore, N.Y.-based Commercial Fire & Security, which he said was formed about a year ago.

And he’s involved in the start up of a new company that he said has a group of investors behind it and is expected to launch by the end of October if all goes as planned. The company may be called Commercial Fire & Security—the new company may acquire the existing one—or take on a new name, he said. It will be based somewhere on Long Island, Wahrsager said.

Stay tuned—it looks like another round for Wayne Wahrsager.

Industry veteran mourned

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Monday, August 6, 2012

We at Security Systems News were very saddened to learn about the sudden passing of David Merrick, marketing director for Pittsburgh-based Vector Security. A veteran of the industry, he was a member of our Editorial Advisory Board, a great source of knowledge, and also just an all-around nice guy. He’ll be missed.

David, 60, a Pennsylvania resident, died July 31 at a local hospital. Here’s more about his career of more than three decades, provided by Vector Security:

David began his career in the electronic security industry during 1979. Since that time he has held various sales and marketing management positions, first with Automatic Detection Systems and then Triple A Protection, a Pennsylvania-based regional supplier of residential and commercial electronic security and uniformed guard services.

In 1999, David became part of Vector Security, holding the position of Director of Marketing for Vector Security's National Accounts Division.

Active in the security industry, David served as a board member of the Pennsylvania Burglar & Fire Alarm Association, and was the recipient of the NBFAA 2002 President’s Award. He authored a variety of sales and marketing-related articles in a number of industry magazines, and was an editorial board member of Security Systems News.

David’s work has been featured in various industry magazine articles, merited three SAMMY nominations, and captured the honor twice. He was also the author of the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association’s (NBFAA) Reassuring America Program.

An obituary from the Sheldon-Kukuchka Funeral Home said David is survived by his wife Nina Mowry Merrick; a stepson and stepdaughter; a brother; a granddaughter and a goddaughter.

Online condolences may be sent to the family at www.sheldonkukuchkafuneralhome.com

Lenel and Mercury Settle

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Last summer panel manufacturer Mercury Security filed a lawsuit against Lenel Systems International concerning a contract dispute and alleged copyright infringement. While there was no mention of the lawsuit itself, Mercury and Lenel on July 30 jointly announced a “long-term agreement for access control hardwar

I’ve called both Lenel and Mercury, but have not heard back yet. I understand that both Frank Gasztonyi, co-founder and CTO of Mercury Security, and Steve Wagner, Mercury’s VP of marketing are both, atending an event at Lenel headquarters

The announcement said the agreement is “to provide access control hardware for use with the Lenel OnGuard Total Security Platform.”  

In a statement, Gasztonyi said that Mercury and Lenel “look forward to working together to enhance and improve existing product lines and to provide the industry with new, innovative and highly competitive products into the next decade. After a successful 16-year relationship, we are thrilled to enter into a long-term agreement that allows us to collaborate closely with the industry’s premium access control systems brand.”

Joe Kirmser, president of Lenel, said this in the statement: “Mercury and Lenel have successfully innovated industry-leading security solutions for many years. We are both focused on meeting customer and market needs by jointly developing differentiated solutions.”

Double take on 2G: Readers see 'sunset' differently

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

If nothing else, last week's blog on the 2G sunset served to toss another log on the fire in the debate over how long the technology will last in the face of frequency harvesting by carriers. Among the responses I received was an argument that 2G will remain viable in part due to CDMA-based equipment, which could stick around a lot longer than its GPRS and GMS cousins.

"I was reading your 2G sunset blog this morning and wanted to point out that many cellular alarm solution providers support T-Mobile USA or other 2G carriers along with AT&T Wireless coverage," said the reader, who said I could pass along his remarks on condition of anonymity. "AT&T is the carrier making the most noise about phasing out 2G GPRS, but T-Mobile has no current plans to sunset. Also, CDMA-based carriers like Verizon and Sprint still have a long planned life for 2G CDMA."

The reader agreed that the issue is critical for the industry, saying the majority of cellular alarm systems currently deployed utilize 2G GPRS on AT&T. But he took issue with the terminology being used and urged others to do the same.

"While AT&T-based cellular alarm providers certainly have the largest marketing presence, please be careful referring to the AT&T GPRS sunset as a '2G sunset,' because many 2G alarm solutions will stay viable for a long time," he said.

Another reader, Steve Wallace, called attention to the fact that just because no carrier has announced a date for the sunset, it doesn't mean it's not going to happen. He said the process has already begun and commented that companies not paying heed "may be looking at this wrong."

"For quite a while some carriers, such as AT&T, have stopped certifying new 2G devices," Wallace said. "Carriers have begun to re-purpose [refarm] the 2G spectrum into LTE offerings. 2G equipment is retiring and is being replaced for 4G. 3G expansion has virtually ceased."

The reality for alarm companies is that signal strength will decline for a lot of equipment in the field as these changes take hold.

"Alarm systems with 2G radios could become more problematic long before 'sunset' is announced," he said.

Like I mentioned last week, a sunset date by AT&T would likely knock a lot of people off the fence if they've been considering a move to 3G/4G. All is quiet at the moment, but it would be shortsighted to think it’s going to stay that way. Alarm companies would be wise to plan accordingly and keep a sharp eye on the horizon.

Interactive services provider gets $136m

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

First, Alarm.com recently announced a milestone—that it has more than 1 million subscribers. Now the 12-year-old Vienna, Va.-based provider of interactive security services has announced that it has $136 million in new funding, made by a leading provider of capital to growth-stage technology companies.

The company says the investment from Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV) will enable Alarm.com to continue to develop new products.

Here’s more from the news release Alarm.com issued today:
 

The investment will allow Alarm.com to continue to focus on developing and delivering the most innovative products in the market. TCV General Partner Tim McAdam will join Alarm.com’s Board of Directors along with the existing investor ABS Capital Partners.

“Alarm.com is pleased to welcome TCV as a new partner in the business and we are thrilled to have Tim joining our Board of Directors”, said Steve Trundle, CEO of Alarm.com. “TCV’s well established track record of growth investments in software and technology companies will be a strategic asset for us. We look forward to continued focus on developing new and innovative products and growing our business.”
“Alarm.com’s best of breed software services and device management platform has established the company as the premier solution provider of interactive security services,” said TCV General Partner Tim McAdam. “We are excited to work with Alarm.com to continue its growth and build on its track record of innovation.”

Alarm.com, founded in 2000, is the industry leading technology provider of interactive security, automation and energy management solutions. Through its proven technology platform and advanced wireless, mobile and web-based solutions, Alarm.com helps protect and empower over a million residential and commercial customers throughout North America. Alarm.com delivers interactive security, video monitoring, home automation and energy management to users exclusively through a network of thousands of licensed and authorized Dealer Partners. For more information, visit the company's website at www.alarm.com.

I've reached out to the company to learn more about what this new capital will mean for Alarm.com and its dealer partners. Stay tuned to our site.

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