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More Bells and Whistles

How new technology is giving security installations a lifestyle flare

With 30 years experience as a volunteer firefighter, Steve Merola has a special appreciation for alarm technology. The New York-based custom integrator wishes more of his customers had the same attitude.

As a full-integration specialist, I see people wanting to spend more money on entertainment before their familys safety, he lamented after hanging up with a customer who was ready to spend big bucks on a home theater system. Personal safety and security should come before the fluff.

Merola started his custom installation career doing mainly security and home network wiring installations. A move into the world of custom electronics proved a wise decision as his company, Futuristic Home, eventually expanded and thrived. But security remains a big part of his world. In an industry where many custom integrators outsource their security installations for financial reasons, Merola is among those who believe opportunity exists to make more money by doing the jobs themselves. I think integrators would be foolish not to consider security installations, he said.

When picturing an integrated home, many homeowners might imagine intercoms, multi-room audio, high-definition televisions, automated lighting, and climate control. Security systems typically take a back seat to these lifestyle-enhancing gadgets and are regarded more as noisy alarms. But what if a security system itself could enhance a homeowners lifestyle in addition to providing protection?

In fact, emerging security technology does more than emit loud, piercing noise during a possible intrusion. Modern security systems offer customers capabilities such as remote control via cell phones, laptops, and PDAs. Parents can be immediately notified when their children safely return home from schooland watch them enter the front door through streaming video from their work computers. And homeowners can control security, lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems from their desktops.

Imagine sitting at your clients sitting in their home office paying bills while adjusting a thermostat and arming the security system for the night, and without ever having to leave their chair.

Besides enhanced security, these features are in line with todays consumer demands for custom electronics that can make everyday life easier. We can sell more than security, Merola said. Its taking security to the next level.

Security as Custom Electronics
The rising demand for custom electronics has been driven in part by customers who want instant, tailored information. Blackberries and other PDA-type devices have exploded in the mainstream, and text messaging is the preferred method of communication for many.

Thanks to recent advancements, security technology can now meet this demand. New alarm radios, for example, transmit signals to central stations through digital communication paths as opposed to the soon-to-be-obsolete analog lines. But these wireless, digital networks offer more than just a way to alert the proper authorities.
Digital networks, such as the increasingly popular Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) mobile phone standard, enable security system control through Web-enabled laptop computers, PDAs, and even cell phones. If a homeowner forgets to arm his/her system before leaving for work in the morning, for example, he or she can simply send a text command via cell phone. If theyre away on vacation, they can punch in codes on their mobile phones to check the status of their security systems.

For installers, the services offered through technology such as GSM alarm radios represent an opportunity to grow business and increase recurring monthly revenue (RMR).

While Merola believes custom integrators should consider security installations more often, he also concedes that security dealers cant pigeonhole themselves, either. Its important to consider solutions that network security with controls for thermostats and lighting.

Selling Customers Peace of Mind
As important as it is for security technology to complement custom electronics, custom electronics can enhance the security system as well. A security systems key selling point, after all, remains its ability to better protect the home.

Some security systems, for instance, can be programmed to react to specific security incidents. During a fire alarm, the newer systems can send signals to turn on hallway and bedroom lights and shut off the HVAC to stop the spread of smoke. For non-critical events, similar integrated systems could be programmed to perform tasks such as automatically shutting off thermostats during the summer months if a window is opened.

Another staple of custom integration, structured cabling, also can provide a strong link to security systems, as well as a strong sell. By linking network cameras to home televisions, homeowners can monitor visitors at the front or back doors or children playing in the swimming pool. The system also can take intelligent actions based upon the type of security required. For instance, if a glass-break or motion detector determines that an intruder is attempting to break into the house, the system can turn on inside and outside lights to scare him away.

And in the event of a break-in or fire, new alarm systems such as the GSM radios offer redundant communication paths to ensure signals reach authorities. Honeywells recently launched GSM radios, for example, offer three communication pathsGeneral Packet Radio Service (GPRS), the Internet, and Short Message Service (SMS). With this approach, if one path fails, another will back it up.
This digital technology is therefore an ideal system for tech-savvy customers who have shunned traditional landlines for services such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). It also prevents these customers from having to pay for a phone line for the sole purpose of having a security system.

A lot of people are also looking for just one phone bill because they already have a cell phone and feel its enough, Merola said. People want the solution to fit into their budget, and simplify their lives. If they go with VoIP as their phone service, why not offer a more secure and 99.9-percent guaranteed signal connection with the GSM radio service, instead of having to buy another land line?

The Bigger Picture
Merolas tag line for Futuristic Home is, We bring lifestyle solutions to life. Although its not the only part, security is a big component of the lifestyle he sells.
The entertainment and home automation aspects may be the most talked-about custom integration topics, but recent advancements in home security technology have brought new, convenient capabilities to the homeowners fingertips. And when plugged into the bigger puzzle, it can make for a much smarter, and safer, home.
Its a much stronger sell, Merola said, when you can tell a homeowner, When the fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night, your bedrooms and hallway will light up, the thermostat is going to shut off and stop blowing smoke around the house, the front door light is going to flash, and youve got a safer house.

Tim Trautman is senior product manager for Honeywell Security & Custom Electronics.