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Is the 2G sunset causing outages?

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Friday, September 27, 2013

AT&T’s 2012 announcement that it would phase out 2G service left most in the alarm industry, well, unfazed. With wireless technology, such changes come with the territory. Moreover, it’s not the alarm industry but the mobile phone industry that dictates network “sunsets.” As Lou Fiore, Chairman of the Alarm Industry Communications Commission, put it in a recent conversation: “As long as you go cellular, there is no endgame here.”

A few months after the initial announcement, AT&T attached a deadline (Jan 1, 2017) to its 2G sunset. Since that time, the AICC has established a regular line of communication with AT&T, which sends a representative to attend the organization’s quarterly meetings.

AT&T informed AICC that, while interim changes would take place in advance of the 2G sunset, the changes would not affect the alarm industry. AICC members, Fiore said, were “skeptical.”

“We tried to impress upon [AT&T] the fact that our control sets hang on the wall, and if you change the operating parameters of that network, it may not work anymore,” Fiore said. “You can’t ask the homeowner to move the unit around to see if it works.”

Fiore, who is in the process of gathering information regarding possible outages for units tied to AT&T’s 2G network, said that in given locations, customers might still get 2G coverage but that there’s a chance it “won’t be as deep as it was before.”

Fortunately, there are some steps alarm companies can take to mitigate outages. Companies can switch to AT&T's 3G or 4G network by choosing matching hardware from a cellular alarm communicator, or to one of AT&T's competitors (the 3G and 4G networks of Verizon and Sprint are an option, Fiore said). Certain companies may be able to go with a wired network, but this is highly contingent upon business model, Fiore noted.

Still three years from the deadline, AT&T’s 2G sunset promises to be a story with several more chapters. I’ll be watching closely to see what kind of ripple effects it has on the industry.

TrendNet: A Cautionary Tale?

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hundreds of TrendNet customers found out the hard way that products they purchased, billed as home security cameras, weren’t all that secure. In January 2012, a hacker was able to breach TrendNet’s website, circumvent security credentials and access some 700 live-camera feeds monitoring inside customers' homes. Many of the videos were then disseminated on the Internet, a curious fact by itself in light of the complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission, which said security flaws in the cameras allowed for the “unauthorized surveillance of infants sleeping in their cribs, young children playing, and adults engaging in typical daily activities.” The online community continues to recover from the trauma of being exposed to such tedium.

But for obvious reasons, customers were unnerved. The FTC wasn't happy either. The oversight committee’s complaint alleging that TrendNet misrepresented its software as secure and failed to adequately protect its customers resulted in a settlement, which was reached last week, according to multiple reports.

The story reached mainstream news. Unsurprisingly, it’s on the alarm monitoring industry’s radar as well, as I discovered in a short conversation with Stephen Doyle, executive vice president and CEO of CSAA. Doyle said he just returned from an Alarm Industry Communications Committee meeting in which 65 industry members were briefed by an industry lawyer on the legal ins and outs of the TrendNet snafu.

In terms of pertinence to the industry, the case seems fringy in some respects, relevant in others. It’s true, after all, that TrendNet cameras are unattached to alarms, and designed specifically for remote monitoring of homes via smartphones and other mobile devices. But it's relevant to the industry insofar as it deals with a few topics in the forefront of people's minds.

One of those topics is the viability and security of do-it-yourself monitoring systems. Another is cloud security, a topic that stands to grow in significance with the spread of IP panels, and as more companies migrate information and services to the cloud. Whether a company’s data becomes more or less secure when it’s transferred to the cloud is a hot-button industry debate with little consensus. Cloud adoption is likely to expand, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be skeptics. Either way, the TrendNet case perhaps intensifies the debate.

At TechSec 2014, Jeremy Brecher, VP of technology, electronic security at Diebold, will tackle some issues in this vein as part of the educational program, while also exploring ways security companies can thrive in an increasingly cloud-based environment.

NICE Systems launches PSAP tool

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08/16/2013

RA’ANANA, Israel—NICE Systems recently announced the launch of NICE Inform Version 6, which enables Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to evaluate the quality of service delivered across an entire emergency incident, according to a company statement.

Ex-NYC police and fire commissioner to keynote CSAA conference

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08/07/2013

VIENNA, Va.—Howard Safir, former police and fire commissioner of New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, will keynote the 2013 Central Station Alarm Association International Annual Meeting, to be held Oct.

AT&T adds more Digital Life markets

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07/22/2013

DALLAS—AT&T announced today that it plans to launch Digital Life, its home automation/home security product, in six more markets beginning this Friday: Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, San Diego, San Jose and Tampa.

Curbing central station turnover

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Earlier today, a participant in the Central Station Alarm Association listserv broached the topic of turnover in central stations. The author discussed several themes relevant to this topic, including the potentially negative impact on the bottom line, the strain on the training department, and the relationship between turnover and a central station’s culture.

The redeeming point from the post was the author’s statement that supervisors, rather than accepting a lack of continuity as inevitable, should instead take steps to better understand why people are leaving, and resolve to change the culture before more operators are out the door.

It’s a highly sensible approach to addressing the problem. But in the monitoring world, it’s easier said than done.

Steve Doyle, vice president and CEO of the Central Station Alarm Association, said turnover is a “perennial problem” for central stations, particularly when it comes to operator jobs, which are entry-level, often require late (or very early) “graveyard” shifts, and are seldom viewed as long-term career jobs.

Monitoring, of course, is not the only industry to encounter this problem. Traditional call centers, Doyle said, have an even higher rate of turnover. But while the issue may be native to the industry, there are steps central station managers can take to mitigate it.

Doyle said educational programs are a good idea. They can help operators “get a wider perspective of what they do, and how they relate to the authorities who have jurisdiction.” Recognition is another means of decreasing turnover, he said. CSAA, in particular, has been at the vanguard in terms of recognizing central station operators, particularly through its CSAA Excellence Award for Operator of the Year, which was recently presented for the eighth year running. But individual central stations can also present their own intra-company award.

Certifications and awards have become a source of pride and credibility for many central stations, not to mention a form of public outreach, Doyle said.

“If you go around to central stations and see certifications on the wall, what they’re saying to the public is that we didn’t just put somebody in the chair here,” he said. “We taught them the right way to do things.”

The takeaway from my conversation with Doyle was that even a problem as persistent as central station turnover can, to some extent, be curtailed. 

CPI continues on road less traveled

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07/01/2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Like many monitoring companies, CPI Security Systems chalks up some of its recent success to the boon of technological advances, from smartphone apps to home automation capabilities.

CPI reels in pair of CSAA awards

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06/24/2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—CPI Security Systems, based in Charlotte, N.C., won a pair of CSAA Excellence Awards at ESX last week, including the award for CSAA Central Station of the Year.

New venture takes MJ Vance wherever she is needed

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The last time SSN caught up with Mary Jo Vance, she was exploring opportunities in security consulting after a stint with 1 Time Inc. in Nevada and the Central American nation of Belize. Now the CSAA’s 2007 Manager of the Year has launched a venture that combines her love of travel with her dedication to the industry: plugging in as a temporary central station manager whenever and wherever she is needed.

“It’s a new concept and I truly believe there is a market for it,” Vance said last week from her home base outside of St. Louis. “When I came up with the idea, I asked myself what makes me happy and what am I good at. … I used to fly many years ago for British Caledonian, which is now British Airways, and I was always ready to pick up and go. And what’s my passion? The security industry. So what’s tying me down now? Nothing.”

Vance, better known in the industry as MJ, said the “have manager, will travel” concept will appeal to companies that need an experienced hand to fill in at vacation time, to help groom a new monitoring supervisor, or to handle more pressing concerns.

“I just got a call last night from a prospective client who said he had a central station manager who had some personal problems and just up and left,” she said. “Although that’s not the best way to exit, it does happen, so what do you do? Who fills in until a seasoned manager is hired? That’s where my services come in.”

Vance’s experience includes eight years at CenterPoint Technologies, where she was vice president of operations and business development. She also has served as the president of ESA of Missouri, president of the St. Louis Alarm Association, and treasurer of the Missouri Burglar and Fire Alarm Association. She received the Presidential Award from the Fire Marshals’ Association of Missouri in 2010.

Vance said she keeps the identities of her clients confidential and that her services aren’t limited to the United States. “I have passport, will travel. It’s current,” she said with a laugh. To find out more, drop her an email at mjvancemj@hotmail.com.

Need lower attrition? Balance price and value

Analyzing customers’ habits can be the key to long-term retention, says Devcon’s Brandon Savage
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05/07/2013

YARMOUTH, Maine—When it comes to alarm services, customers can choose packages ranging from a Pinto to a Ferrari. If you’re lucky, they’ll pony up for a Ferrari. But will they get their money’s worth by putting it through its paces?

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