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Another tech giant making a $200m move into the connected home?

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I’ve written recently about Google’s $3.2 billion buy of smart thermostat and smoke alarm maker Nest Labs, and then Nest’s $555 million plan to buy Dropcam, which makes video cameras that stream video to a user’s computer or cellphone. Also, Apple in June introduced HomeKit, its new home automation/home security framework.

Now, Samsung also may be making a home automation push with a $200 million buy of startup SmartThings, according to news reports.

The potential deal was first reported in TechCrunch.

Forbes says that SmartThings is based in Washington, D.C. and “sells $100 hardware hubs and provides a cloud platform to make the hundreds of smart gadgets out on the market talk to each other in one unified app.”

Forbes notes that Samsung “already has many connected home appliances on the market.” However, Forbes says SmartThings could enhance those.

“What the SmartThings technology could do is better connect its appliances to other third-party devices onto one central platform. This is what Apple looks to be aiming to do with its HomeKit and what Nest may one day achieve after opening up its API program to allow other devices to talk to its growing family of smart gadgets.”

SmartThings, founded in 2012, has “tens of thousands” of SmartThings systems currently installed in U.S. households, Forbes said.

 

Vivint providing actionable intelligence for smart homes

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The BusinessDictionary defines “actionable intelligence” as data “that can be used to boost a company's strategic position against industry peers.” But with a new partnership announced this week, Vivint is using data collected from sensors in smart homes to “identify actionable insights to enrich their customers’ lives.”

Provo, Utah-based home automation/home security company Vivint has partnered with Cloudera, which offers businesses “one place to store, process and analyze all their data,” according to a July 15 news release.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cloudera provides businesses with “fundamental new ways to derive value from their data.” In Vivint’s case that means, according to the news release, that “for the first time, Vivint is able to apply a new lens to data generated from intelligent devices and systems embedded with sensors in and around homes.” More than 100,000 data points “from smart sensors embedded in devices [are now] visible with Cloudera,” the release said.

Brandon Bunker, Vivint’s senior director of customer analytics and insights, put it this way in a prepared statement: “Vivint has been at the forefront of the connected home for decades, and now with the emergence of [the] IoT (Internet of Things), we are truly able to innovate by collecting and analyzing vast amounts of data from sensors embedded in our devices. We've taken that one step further with Cloudera and can now look across many data streams simultaneously for behaviors, geo-location, and actionable events in order to better understand and enrich our customers' lives.”

Vivint has more than 800,000 customers using various third party, smart-enabled devices, the release said. Each home has from 20 to 30 sensors, it said.

Here, according to the release, is how Cloudera’s services will make a difference with data from those sensors:

“Many of those devices come in the form of thermostats, smart appliances, video cameras, window and door sensors, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Without a central internal repository to gather and analyze the data generated from each sensor, Vivint was previously limited in its ability to innovate and to add higher intelligence to its security offerings. For example, knowing when a home is occupied or vacant is important to security -- but when tied into the heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system, you can add a layer of energy cost savings by cooling or heating a home based on occupancy. Similarly, by adding geo-location into the equation, you can begin to adjust temperature changes to a home based on the proximity to an owner's arrival, for instance, when the owner has a connected vehicle.”
 

Such "actionable intelligence" would be a sellling point for Vivint because consumers can save from 20 to 30 percent in energy costs by turning off their HVAC systems when they’re away or sleeping, the release said.

Vivint said it chose Cloudera because it has a proven track record and a very broad “big data ecosystem, to ensure support as more and more devices are connected to the Internet each day.” The company also ensures the data’s security, the release said.

And that traditional definition of “actionable intelligence,” about boosting a company’s position against industry peers?

Well, that’s actually a part of the partnership too, according to Vivint. “This platform has differentiated our business and given us a tremendous competitive advantage,” Bunker said in his statement.

 

ESA taps new president and officers

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Electronic Security Association has installed Marshall Marinace, owner of Yorktown Heights, N.Y.-based Marshall Alarm Systems, as its president for the next two years.

Marinace’s presidency was one of five new officer appointments announced at ESA’s annual membership meeting held during ESX 2014 in Nashville.

Marinace has been involved in the security industry for 38 years, and his alarm company was founded in 1976. He also has a longstanding involvement with ESA, serving in several different capacities with the association, including multiple terms as vice president, chairperson of the Membership Committee and liaison to the Standards and Fire Life Safety Committee, among other roles, according to an ESA news release.

“Having been involved with association boards and committees for the past 30 years and counting, my personal goal is to continue the legacy and ongoing development of strong leadership that has made ESA the foremost industry association,” Marinance said in a prepared statement. “I am therefore honored and humbled to have been given the opportunity to fill the role as ESA president for the next term.”

The following industry practitioners were also elected to ESA roles:

-- Dee Ann Harn, CEO of RFI Enterprises, elected to one-year term as vice president

-- Chris Mosley, president of Complete Security Systems, elected to two-year term as vice president

-- Angela White, executive vice president of Central 1 Security, elected to two-year term as vice president

-- Jon Sargent, industry relations / government affairs for Tyco Integrated Security, elected to two-year term as secretary

Milestone research: Video, metadata, operational intelligence

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Interesting piece of news in my inbox this morning having to do with research that VMS provider Milestone Systems (recently acquired by Canon)  is working on.

The VMS provider is working with Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Aalborg University, Securitas and Nabto, on a research project that looks at using video for operational intelligence.

The news release said that Milestone is putting some of the research into practice already. From the release: “Research that is ongoing in a 3-year project to develop technological innovations is already paying off: the latest release of Milestone XProtect 2014 launched a new metadata framework that vastly improves the speed of searching and analysis with the video software. … Milestone's software manages video for security uses, but can also support and optimize activities in production, logistics, marketing, sales, healthcare, intelligent buildings, environmental control, and other analytical applications. Thanks to the XProtect open platform architecture, other companies are integrating software applications with Milestone's video management software to adapt it for particular operational needs in different business sectors.”

The Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation provided funding (DKK 15 million) for the project. The goal is “to interpret the recorded video material so the content can be described automatically.”

In a prepared statement, Hans Jorgen Skovgaard, Milestone VP of R&D said:
"We are still in phase one and expect to present to the market several new solutions for searching in metadata—the framework has already been released in XProtect 2014. During the next phases, we will do research among other things on how the software can learn to distinguish between normal and abnormal activity in video images. This means video surveillance can proactively give an alert before an incident occurs, and further enable use as a business tool in many more operational scenarios. … For example, if there is an accident or an assault at a bus station, the police or security personnel can search for the exact area where the incident happened by linking GPS coordinates with the video recordings from the buses, and within a few seconds they will have the relevant recording of the offender or other people involved.”
 
The release says that the metadata technology “can also be used with mobile phones as moving security cameras where GPS coordinates and compass information can be stored with the video. Operators thereby will know precisely where the video was recorded. Used in this way, mobile phones can increase security and safety, and threatening behavior can easily be proven. The technology can also be used as evidence of pollution emissions, for resolving insurance claims, or many other applications yet to be explored.”

Vivint taps into DIY with new online Support site

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Vivint is not a DIY company—it offers professionally installed and monitored home security. But its new online Support site—which the company announced this week—is geared toward those who like to take things into their own hands.

Vivint notes that it already offers customer support 24/7/365. But in addition to that, the Provo, Utah-based home automation/home security company has launched the new Support site. Here’s how it describes its new online service:  

“If you’re a go-getter, a do-it-yourself-er, a knowledge-seeker, or a hate-being-put-on-hold-er, then this is great news for you. On our new Support site, you’ll find video tutorials, step-by-step instructions, troubleshooting, FAQs and more for anything from changing the batteries on your electronic door lock to adding a new camera to your system.”

I checked out the site. It’s easy to read and it provides answers to basic questions that range from “Where can I send my payment?” to “Why do you use a door-to-door approach?” Vivint’s answer to the latter is that it’s more personal and allows a sales rep to customize systems for each homeowner.

But in case anyone is wondering, Vivint stresses that the site does not replace its traditional customer service. “If you’re a I’d-rather-just-talk-on-the-phone-er, we will always be here to answer your call,” the company says.

Information about our "20 under 40" awards

 - 
Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Now is the time for you to submit your nominations for the Security Systems News "20 under 40" Class of 2014. Click here to make your nomination.

It’s the eighth year that SSN has solicited nominations of young people, ages 40 or younger, who display leadership characteristics, are tech-savvy and are dedicated to the security industry.

To be eligible, nominees must work for an installing fire or security dealer or integrator or work for a monitoring company. Sorry, employees of manufacturing companies and consultants are not eligible.

End users are not eligible for SSN’s “20 under 40” awards, but if you know a talented young end user, please nominate them for the “20 under 40” awards of our sister publication, Security Director News.https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/sdn20under40
So, nominate a colleague, a customer or yourself, and do it before the Aug. 1 deadline.

The “20 under 40” awards process will culminate in an awards ceremony for both SSN and SDN “20 under 40” award winners at TechSec Solutions, the industry’s premier conference for integrators, end users, consultants and manufacturers to discuss and debate the effects of new and emerging security technologies on their bottom line.
This year’s conference will take place Feb. 3 and 4 at the Delray Beach Marriott in Delray Beach, Fla. At the end of the first day, we take time out from the discussions and debate and head out to the pool for the SSN/SDN “20 under 40” awards reception.

It has become a tradition at TechSec and the social event that all TechSec attendees look forward to.

In addition to being honored, the “20 under 40” winners participate in the conference, some as speakers and some as active audience members. The heavy participation of the “20 under 40” demographic is one of the things that sets TechSec apart from other conferences.

The younger TechSec participants bring a variety of expertise and perspectives and enrich the discussion and debates at TechSec. Their participation is encouraged and valued by other attendees and presenters, as well as organizers.
 
We’re proud that the conference tends to attract “20 under 40s,” both past and present. Many people first came to TechSec as “20 under 40” honorees and now come back to TechSec every year.

But we need your help identifying the young leaders that we’ll honor this year. Get your nominations in, and if you have any questions about the “20 under 40” awards or TechSec, give me a call or send me an email.

ADT closes Protectron acquisition

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The ADT Corporation announced yesterday that it has closed its acquisition of Canadian monitoring giant Protectron.

ADT, which executed a definitive agreement to acquire Reliance Protectron in April, acquired the company for total cash consideration of CAD $555 million.

ADT has now officially added 400,000 customers and 31,000 accounts north of the border, worth approximately $11 million in RMR.

ADT, which already has two central stations in Canada, adds four more through the acquisition. Protectron, a portfolio company of investment funds managed by Alinda Capital Partners, has 900 employees. Its customer base is 75 percent residential.

ADT’s plan, as stated at the time it agreed to acquire the company, is to use the acquisition as the platform for a stand-alone business in Canada with a dedicated management team, a move designed to address the country’s specific market needs. In a news release, ADT said it planned to continue to using the Protectron brand under ADT ownership.

In late April, following the acquisition agreement, Lee Jackson, regional VP Canada, said it was too early to say whether ADT would keep all six Canadian central stations in operation. He noted that ADT has yet to determine which resources and administrative functions it will transfer to Canada to supports its expanded account base in that country, now up to 800,000.

The acquisition goes down as ADT’s largest since becoming an independent company, far surprassing its 2013 Devcon deal, according to John Mack, EVP and managing director at Imperial Capital, who spoke to SSN when the agreement to acquire became public. At the time, Mack said the deal signals a return to “growth initiatives [through] high quality acquisitions” and predicted the deal would help ADT’s attrition profile while bolstering its enhanced services sales.

It will be interesting to wait and see if Mack's words prove to be prophetic.

AMAG has new president

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bob Sawyer, who has been with AMAG Technology for 40 years, the past 19 as president and CEO as of July 1, is now chairman of AMAG’s Board of Directors.

The new president of AMAG is Matt Barnette, who been with AMAG for 10 years, most recently as EVP of global marketing and sales.

Barnette will report to G4S Technology CEO, Keith Whitelock.

I had a chance to correspond via email with Matt yesterday and asked him to fill me in on any new deals AMAG has closed since I last saw him at PSA-TEC in May.

"Since I saw you last at PSA-TEC, we’ve secured several Fortune 100 companies with our Audit, Credentialing & Compliance software. We have installed our Symmetry SR product at two 5,000+ card reader end-users (one in telecommunications and the other in energy sector) and we continue to gain marketshare with our Symmetry Video platform. We are launching Symmetry v8 in August, so there is a lot of momentum right now," he said in the email.
 
I also asked him about plans for the future. "Fortunately, we have a fantastic foundation here to build from. My plan is to accelerate growth by increasing our Business Development team, both in North America and Internationally, to help blanket the end-user and consultant community to update them on our tremendous products and services. In addition, [I want to] increase our footprint in services revenue by scaling that organization to meet the higher demands of the global accounts we’ve captured. We’ve found customers enjoy a much higher level of product satisfaction when they have a Symmetry Certified ProService Engineer working closely with them."

In a prepared statement, Bob Sawyer said: "Matt Barnette has a deep knowledge of all major aspects of the security products industry coupled with over 20 years of experience building and leading teams. Over the last 10 years, Matt has done an exceptional job leading the sales and marketing teams, while working closely with AMAG’s senior leadership to support the growth of the company’s global organization.  His contributions, experience and integrity make him the ideal candidate to succeed me as president of AMAG Technology."

Prior to AMAG, Barnette worked for Andover Controls in its Integral Technologies Division. 

AMAG Technology is based in Torrance, Calif., and has offices throughout the U.S., offering security and video solutions to government and private-sector customers in North America through authorized dealers.
 

ADT, others give voice to home security

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

“You Speak. Your Home Listens.” That’s how ADT is describing ADT Pulse Voice, a new app that adds personal voice commands to Pulse security systems.

Voice commands appear to be the hot new trend in home security. For example, I blogged recently about the voice control capabilities of Honeywell’s Wi-Fi thermostat. And Alan Stoddard, senior director of marketing for Honeywell Security Products Americas, told me last week that a new release of Honeywell’s Tuxedo Touch this month will provide for voice commands.

ADT announced the release of its new app today and bills ADT Pulse Voice technology as “the first of its kind in the smart home space.”

The company says the technology “enables homeowners to log in and log out of the Pulse Voice app via custom technology that recognizes unique voice signatures. Once logged in, users can arm and disarm their Pulse security panel, control their home’s lighting, adjust thermostats, lock and unlock doors, and check the overall status of their home – all verbally and virtually touchless through an iOS or Android smart phone.”

ADT says it’s all about making life simpler for today’s busy homeowners. No longer do they have to interrupt what they’re doing to manually control their homes. “Instead, a homeowner’s voice can trigger ADT Pulse functions by recognizing select key words, device names and phrases to perform. In addition to accepting personal voice commands, the ADT Pulse Voice app provides auditory feedback to confirm actions and system status for all of its connected devices.”

The technology is a boon for the visually impaired as well, ADT says.

The company says it has also taken steps to secure homeowners’ privacy in case a mobile device is lost or stolen. ADT says it does that by leveraging “a multi-layered identification process allowing only registered members of a household to log in. Through voice commands, a user is approved by three personal checkpoints: a secret phrase, state-of-the-art voice recognition, and confirmed identification of a mobile device. …Without all three verification checkpoints confirmed, any login attempt will be denied.”

The company says existing ADT customers can download the new app for free in the Apple App Store, as well as through Google Play.

 

ESX roundup

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

With ESX 2014 in the rearview mirror, I wanted to combine some of my experiences into one summarizing blog of an event rich in educational seminars and insightful speakers. Here are some of the sights and sounds, in more or less chronological order:

How, in 2014 and beyond, does a security company remain relevant? That’s the question Safeguard Security CEO John Jennings addressed at the ESA eye-opener breakfast, urging audience members to free themselves from outmoded ways of doing and thinking about business.

Titled “Dinosaurs, Woolly Mammoths, Saber tooth tigers and you,” the presentation very directly explored strategies to help security companies avoid becoming, well, extinct. His recommendations? Promoting unorthodox perspectives, challenging the obvious and fostering divergent ideas. He encouraged listeners to emulate the disruptive, risk-taking attitudes prevalent in the tech startup culture—first by considering failure not as an endgame, but as an occasional and even necessary obstacle along the pathway to better ideas.

Jennings also told attendees to ask the tough questions about their businesses, and to be uncompromising about having employees who both perform in the field and elevate the atmosphere in the office.

Strategic planning, Jennings noted, can be relegated to the dustbin of history. In an industry so rapidly evolving and so hard to predict, such projects no longer constitute a good use of time. Oh, and organizational charts? Those can go too. Divisions between personnel need no longer be so neatly divided or even hierarchical, as leaders should aim to pool ideas from all levels of their management structure.

Jennings also made a persuasive and rather funny case for doing away with the term “central station.” “Central station—really?!” he asked with half-serious outrage. He then asked if anyone outside the industry actually knows what a central station is. He’s got a point. There’s something a little unsleek and Star Trek-y about the phrase. And that’s misleading; the facilities I’ve visited are nothing if not sleek.

In the afternoon I moderated a seminar featuring Tom Szell, SVP, ADS Security, Mike Bodnar, president, Security Partners, and Brandon Savage, SVP customer experience and operations at My Alarm Center/Alarm Capital Alliance. It was a good mix of perspectives, and the trio wasn’t shy about proposing some forward-thinking ideas. Savage urged attendees to make customer support not just a differentiator but the key differentiator at their companies. Szell affirmed that the interactive services revolution is an enormous positive for the industry, but said the next imperative is figuring out how to provide top-notch support for this ever-expanding array of services. With respect to the hiring and training process, Mike Bodnar encouraged attendees to identify people with the right mix of hard and soft skills, and added that the demand for operators with those characteristics is only going to increase.

From a monitoring standpoint, the panelists left no stone unturned: PERS, mobile PERS, installer apps, subscriber apps, the ASAP to PSAP program, customer surveys, video verification, and interactive services and the new expectations for customer support they’ve produced.

In the latter part of the session, the audience members posed some superb questions as well. Some asked how to extend the life of PERS accounts or how to develop the most effective and informative customer surveys. Others asked about the threat of DIY  / MIY systems and how best to cope with broader market awareness of these systems.

The ESX show floor kicks into full gear Wednesday. I plan to be there the next two days and to make a point of getting to as many of the educational seminars as possible. 

 

DAY 2 - ESX 2014

 

It had the feel of a seminar anyone in the monitoring space needed to hear. Moderated by Don Childers, COO of Security Central, the panel titled “IP, the Central Station and All that Jazz” got down to the brass tacks of what it takes to be a monitoring company in 2014. One of the ruling themes: You need to honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of your monitoring company now to determine how well suited or not it is to be reliable hub of IP signals.

The panelist lineup included Sascha Kylau, VP central station solutions and services, OneTel; Morgan Hertel, VP of operations at Rapid Response Monitoring; and Mark McCall, director of IT, Security Central.

The “Internet of Things” movement was broached early in the session, with Kylau mentioning some possibilities for monitoring that might have seemed farfetched a few years ago but that now seem totally plausible. Pet tracking, mobile medical monitoring, mobile tracking, geo fencing, aggregating information from household appliances—Kylau touched on all these possibilities. Some of these services, such as PERS, are already well-established streams of RMR for some monitoring companies, and only stand to become more mainstream in the years ahead.

The panelists agreed that investing in quality ISPs and bandwidth will pay off in the long run. Hertel noted that during Hurricane Sandy, Rapid Response was hit was an astonishing rate of signals for two weeks straight. With such taxing scenarios in mind, he advised monitoring companies to invest in reliable, first-rate ISPs, and to work closely with automation providers to ensure their company can accommodate IP traffic in any set of circumstances. To that point, McCall added that it’s crucial to invest in a network monitoring platform that tracks signal information and informs you when the IP firewall is about to max out.

The panelists didn’t just discuss the equipment investments in the central station IP domain. They also touched on the human capital aspect of the business, which is evolving in proportion to the technology. Hertel said Rapid Response now employs a 25-person IT and software development team.

Later in the day I caught up with Jeremy Mclerran, director of marketing at Qolsys. The company’s big news at the show was the launch of its new user interface intended to make the customer experience more consistent and sleek. To that end, the new look is a rousing success; it’s an uncluttered, clean, visually appealing interface. McLerran explained that Qolsys is so closely integrated with Alarm.com that remodeling the company’s own interface to make it closer in alignment with that platform’s look and feel “just made sense.”

Though the new look features flat, monochromatic icons, McLerran pointed out that the changes aren’t just cosmetic. The company’s intent was to design a “forward-compatible” panel that interoperates with a host of wireless radios and has a slew of home control functionalities already embedded. Qolsys also managed to elicit some guffaws with its anonymous banner ads adorning the escalators: “1980 called. It wants its panel back.” The banners also encouraged industry members to take a deep breath and  “just say no” to rubber button keypads.

In the afternoon I met with Dave Mayne, VP of marketing at Resolution Products, which today announced the release of its new Helix panel, scheduled to ship everywhere in December. Mayne said the panel reflects Resolution’s goal of creating a panel that reduces the amount of time dealers need to spend servicing accounts, while giving them a pathway to adding new home control functions. The Helix employs software and interactive services from SecureNet. It will ship to a select group of early adopters in July, he said.

I also spoke with Kirk MacDowell, VP sales, intrusion-Americas, at Interlogix, about the company’s recent acquisition of Ultra High Speed, a technology provider of telecommunications infrastructure equipment. The move expands the company’s global intrusion portfolio in the residential and small- to medium-sized retail verticals. A big draw, MacDowell said, was that UHS was a “proven, developed and launched” service.

First thing tomorrow morning I’ll be attending the ESX Rise and Shine breakfast, where I’ll be listening closely to what some of the new entrants to the industry have to say about their go-to-market strategies and their vision for the security industry of tomorrow. I’m eager for this session, and from what I’ve heard from attendees, I’m not alone. I expect to see few if any empty seats.

 

Day 3 - ESX 2014

 

The final day of ESX began with a highly anticipated panel moderated by ESX chair George De Marco. The panel was intended to showcase how some of the new security entrants envision the direction of the industry.

The lineup included Adam Mayer, VP strategy and new business development, Time Warner Cable; Gene LaNois, GM, Nest Labs, Pro Channel; and Mike Hackett, VP sales and marketing, Qolsys.

De Marco did not refrain from asking the tough questions, or in other words, the questions the audience wanted to hear. In view of Google-owned Nest recently acquiring Dropcam, he asked LaNois if he thought third-party monitoring centers and installers would remain crucial components of security, or if DIY systems would factor them out of the equation. The response from LaNois, and from the other panelists who chimed in, were not exactly discouraging for installers or monitoring personnel. Yes, both LaNois and Mayer agreed the DIY market was poised to take off. But they also agreed that for more complex integration projects, installers will still be in high demand, and will continue to play a major role in shaping the industry moving forward. The key takeaways of the panel were that lifestyle services and monitored security can and will share a symbiotic relationship, and that DIY systems, while a threat to central station RMR, are not necessarily going to destroy the entire central station model. If anything, they might just modify it.

After the seminar I caught up with Telguard’s Shawn Welsh, VP marketing and business development, and Pamela Benke, director of marketing, to discuss the company’s new cellular alarm communicator for CDMA networks, the TG-1 Express CDMA. Welsh said the product goes along way toward expanding the company’s residential reach, turning rural or hilly regions, where cellular coverage can be spotty, into more viable zones for Telguard’s services. Compatible with Verizon’s 3G/4G wireless networks, the CDMA alternative is being marketed as a replacement to soon-to-be obsolete GSM products. Telguard is making the product eligible for the company’s Upgrade Incentive Program, which allows dealers to receive $25 for replacing GSM units.

On my final day at ESX, I got wind that the Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response met its ESX deadline for developing video verification best practices. Mark McCall, IT director at Security Central, Keith Jentoft, president at Videofied-RSI Technologies, and Peter Tallman, program manager at Underwriters Laboratories shed some light on their roles in the process, and on the numeric threat evaluation criteria outlined in the new recommendations.

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