Shifting trends in alarm technology on display at ISC West

The development of alarm system technologies has undergone some significant changes in recent years. What was once a fairly straightforward product – a device that simply communicated a detected intrusion of a property to an alarm monitoring center – can now do everything from controlling an HVAC system to sending text messages that inform users how much energy they've consumed over the past month.

This shift in how people use and interact with their security systems is on display at ISC West in the latest product innovations being offered by manufacturers. Here's a look at some of the prevalent trends at this year's show.

Touchscreen Keypads

What was once viewed as a luxury feature on many alarms, touchscreen keypads are now almost standard on all new residential panels from industry manufacturers. Not only are they more aesthetically pleasing, touchscreens also provide the level of user intuitiveness that many homeowners are now looking for in their security systems.

One of the primary reasons that touchscreens have become more prevalent, according to industry experts, is a dramatic reduction in price.

Leon Langlais, director of product management, residential and small business, at Tyco Security Products, said that the price difference now between a touchscreen and an analog keypad is so minuscule that most people don't mind paying the difference for the nicer, larger touchscreen model.

"Now I can have a seven-inch touchscreen that's only slightly more expensive," he said,.

DSC, a brand of Tyco Security Products, unveiled such a touchscreen for its PowerSeries control panels on Wednesday.

In addition to the price drop, some say another reason for the evolution of touchscreen alarm panels is the prevalence of mobile devices and how people have become accustomed to using touchscreens in their cell phones.

Jeff Thomas, director of product management for 2GIG Technologies, said that bigger touchscreens also allow companies to offer users more features.

"It gives us more real estate to provide more features and make them more intuitive," he said.

Remote Services and Mobile Apps

As alarm systems have become more robust in their capabilities, people want to have ready access and the ability to control the features of their home security systems from their mobile devices.

Jay Kenny, vice president of marketing for Alarm.com, said that mobile access to alarm systems is one of biggest paradigm shifts that his company has experienced. According to Kenny, the company, which is releasing its own iPad app at this year's show, has more than 850,000 subscribers on its interactive plan and that they saw a big change in how customers interacted with their systems in the span of only a year.

During the middle of 2010, Kenny said that 75 percent of Alarm.com customers interacted with their system through the web. However, that number shifted significantly last year, with more people beginning to use their mobile devices.

"We saw a big shift in how they interact with their system and the devices they're using to do it," Kenny said.

Tom Mechler, product marketing manager for Bosch Security Systems, said that mobile applications also hold a lot of promise for the commercial alarm market segment, however, it may take some time before their true potential is realized.

"I think it's one of those things that's going to grow," he explained. "We certainly have plenty of end customers who expect that capability, but it's going to be a while before it is ubiquitous. If deployed correctly, it can be a real advantage."

Mechler added that Bosch, which released its new GV4 Series panel at this year's show, has its own app for the iPhone and iPad that allows users to control numerous panels from a single device.

Video Camera Integration

As the prices of home security cameras have gone down and their image quality has increased, more home and small business owners also want to take advantage of video surveillance.

According to Robert Marabella, senior product marketing manager, hybrid security, controls, keypads and wireless at Honeywell, one of the biggest drivers for remote services in the market is video surveillance because it generates more RMR for dealers.

"The whole iPad craze has changed everything," he said.

Kenny said that Alarm.com is launching seven new camera models at this year's show. Earlier this year, the company released its Image Sensor solution, which is essentially a motion detector that can capture video when triggered, allowing users to see who has entered their home or business.

Energy Management

Though its only a portion of what some people would consider home automation, the concept of energy management seems to have really gained popularity among consumers, which is why nearly every alarm company on this year's show floor is offering the technology in their products.

Thomas said that 2GIG, which began in the security industry with an emphasis on smart home features, said that the integration of these features into modern day alarm systems is driving innovation in the industry.

"We're seeing the integration of more and more features into the system," he said. "Why not integrate other things? Why not know when my garage door was left open at night? The communication capability is there."

Thomas said even simple enhancements, such as the integration of a new, integrated door bell that his company is featuring at the show can provide value to users.

"I can send a text message. I can catch a video clip from a camera. There are all kinds of things you can do with simple enhancements like that," he added.

Though people may say they are concerned about energy, Marabella said that most won't sacrifice using their air conditioners to save money during the hottest days of the year. However, he added that energy management could be become more important in the future, depending on how energy costs continue to affect peoples' bottom lines.

"I don't think today it's a big deal," he said. "I think as time goes on, energy will be woven into peoples' lives. "

Cellular Communications

In addition to the features of alarm systems that are changing with the times, so to is how they communicate with central stations. As more and more people have ditched their landline telephones in recent years, cellular communicators are becoming the primary means of communication in numerous alarm systems.

Just as POTS (plain old telephone service) lines have begun to be phased out, there is already talk in the communications and security industry over the potential for the sunsetting of 2G cellular communications.

Shawn Welsh, vice president of marketing and business development for Telular, which announced on Tuesday that it's launching its Telguard line of solutions in Canada, said that they are encouraging dealers to install 3G products in anticipation of this technology shift.

"I think the trend the industry is going to see is the move to 3G," Welsh explained. "We're going to have to fight this idea of procrastination in the industry.."

Welsh said he believed that 3G would provide the industry with a communications platform that has "longevity."

"Our industry does not need speed," he said. "We need to build our products on a communications platform that isn't going away."

On the contrary, Michael Boyle, general manager of Uplink, believes that any migration away from 2G at the moment would be premature given that the FCC has not set a date for the elimination of the platform.

"We don't think it's going away anytime soon," he said. "The reality is the FCC hasn't said anything about it. Until they set a date, it's just pie in the sky."

Uplink announced on Wednesday that it offering customers a lifetime guarantee on it 2G products for 99 cents a month to ensure that they don't get left behind as technology evolves. In addition, the company also launched new CDMA and 4G communicators.

Even if the FCC were to sunset 2G, Boyle says that a move to 3G would be pointless as it would not be far behind.

"The move to 3G is like kissing your sister," he said. "If 2G is going away, 3G is too."

While there may be a struggle between 2G, 3G and 4G for dominance in cellular communications for alarm systems, Mechler said that IP as a communications protocol will remain "stable" because its fast, reliable and relatively inexpensive.

As changes in communications come, however, Mechler said that the industry needs to be able to adapt.

"It's something that we have little control over," he said. "But it's important as an industry to roll with those changes."

Looking to the Future

While the aforementioned technologies and services are currently impacting the market, there are other features on the horizon that could also rise to prominence over the next several years.

Some companies are examining the potential for "geo-location" services, which would utilize a user's GPS tracking functionality on their smartphone to remind them to arm their alarm system after they've left a pre-designated radius of their home or business.

"I think you will see more geo-location services enter the space," Kenny said.

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