Napco’s iSeeVideo lets homeowners check in on their home via video.

Security systems aren’t just about security any more. That’s the key message from alarm technology developers as they look ahead to 2008 and 2009. Also high on their priority list are new ways of using wireless for short-range and long-range communications, including creative two-way applications. Applications that rely on IP communications also will play an increasingly important role as the industry moves forward.

GE hopes to open new opportunities for security companies with its SmartCommander system, which controls a range of functions in the home.

Life Management

Frank Roth, chief marketing officer for the Americas for Bradenton, Fla.-based manufacturer GE, sums up one of the biggest trends in alarm technology when he says, “The consumer realizes that a lot of life revolves around the home.” Alarm installing companies, Roth says, are well-positioned to use their equipment and services to support what he calls “life management.” More and more consumers are asking to be connected to their home while they are away. Such connectivity may be through a browser interface from any Internet-connected computer — or increasingly through a cell phone or personal digital assistant (PDA) connected to a cellular provider’s data network.

The ability to send e-mail alerts from an alarm system has been available for several years. But manufacturers now are working to take that capability a step further by providing notification of non-alarm events and adding video capability to the mix. For example, Roth says, if a homeowner is waiting for a delivery, he could set up his system to send an alert, including video images, when motion is sensed outside the front door. Using equipment such as GE’s SmartCommander system, applications such as these are beginning to happen and “will get significant traction in 2008,” Roth predicts.

In 2008, GE plans to add two-way capability to Smart Command. Functions enabled by the two-way connectivity will expand over time and eventually might enable homeowners to communicate with delivery people remotely by using a cell phone to control a home-based intercom system. Eventually, homeowners also might be able to check on the weather at their destination prior to leaving the house for the airport, notes Jim Paulson, global marketing leader for GE’s intrusion group.

Other manufacturers offering life management functionality in their alarm systems include Melville, N.Y.-based Honeywell; DMP of Springfield, Mo.; Amityville, N.Y.-based Napco; Bosch Security Systems of Fairport, N.Y.; and others. For 2008, DMP plans to gives its control panel the ability to send messages directly to authorized end users’ cell phones or e-mail accounts. “For retailer loss prevention, the client might want to route certain messages to the loss prevention district manager and they may not want the store manager to know about it,” comments Mark Hillenburg, product architect for DMP.

Napco, meanwhile, will be offering improved pricing on its iSeeVideo product, which enables authorized end users to remotely view as many as four video cameras located at their home or business, notes Tom Karl, vice president of sales development for the manufacturer.

DMP’s two-way wireless system will offer smoke detectors with easy reset in early 2008.

Wireless Far & Near

Cell phones aren’t just for receiving alerts, either. Honeywell has been field testing and soon will introduce an alarm system that can be armed and disarmed using the same type of short message codes that consumers use to vote for their favorite American Idol contestant via their cell phones. Such functionality will be particularly appealing to younger consumers who may not have a conventional landline phone, notes Gordon Hope, vice president of Honeywell’s AlarmNet unit. “Their world is centered around their cell phone,” he says. “If you’re going to provision services to them for basic alarm delivery, you have to interact with that phone.” Honeywell also is refining some browser-based functionality to make it more suitable for viewing on PDA screens, Hope says.

Programming via cellular is another area that developers at several companies are working on. During 2008, DMP plans to offer complete control panel uploading and downloading via high-speed GPRS cellular service — and Bosch anticipates the ability to offer remote programming functions over CDMA, GSM and GPRS cellular technologies within the next few years.

Private wireless systems also are likely to see increased activity and interest over the next year or two. In particular, mesh systems that rely on transceivers placed throughout a metro or rural area seem to be gaining momentum. Such systems provide multiple paths for transmitting alarm signals, and as Tom Kenty, general manager for Peabody, Mass.-based wireless mesh manufacturer AES IntelliNet notes, “The benefit provided by mesh networks is the security and speed at which they pass signals. Each signal generated to the central station is acknowledged by the central station.” Typically signals take only one-and-a-half seconds to reach the central station, according to Kenty.

Kenty notes that “We’re poised to release an enhanced intrusion alarm communicator that will simplify the installation methods for alarm technicians while also providing expanded data. We’re also in the heavy development stage of releasing products that are intended to expand the revenue streams for our customers.”

Wireless mesh manufacturers soon will have some new competition in the security market. Avalan Wireless of Mountain View, Calif., is targeting the alarm industry and other industrial applications with a mesh system that operates at 900 MHz. In comparison with lower-frequency systems based on WiFi, Avalan says its system offers better performance for industrial applications because the 900 MHz band is less crowded and provides superior transmission through walls and wooded areas.

The downside of operating at 900 MHz is that the band is narrower. “If you look at products in the 900 MHz band, they usually operate at the 100 to 200 kilobit range,” observes Ray Shilling, vice president of sales and marketing for Avalan. Avalan, however, has found a way of boosting that throughput, Shilling says. “We’re at one megabit,” he boasts.

Short-range wireless is another area where technology advances continue to be made. Although traditional wireless systems provide one-way operation from a control panel to various sensors, more and more of today’s systems offer two-way communication, enabling the sensors to send information back to the control panel.

“The advantage of being two-way is that it provides higher security,” notes Tom Mechler, product marketing manager for Bosch. “The transmitters have an acknowledgement that their signal has been received, and if they need to repeat it, they know that.” Bosch plans to introduce a higher-security two-way system in North America in 2008.

Two-way capability is particularly useful for smoke detectors, Hillenburg explains. Traditionally, the homeowner would have to go to each wireless smoke detector individually. But in 2008 DMP will be introducing two-way wireless smoke detectors that support a system-wide reset.

Bosch’s D6100 central station receiver, scheduled for release in 2008, will reduce the investment required to offer IP monitoring.

IP Communications

Another important development area in the alarm industry is to devise solutions to issues raised by the increasing popularity of telephone service based on voice over Internet protocol (VOIP). If customers cut off traditional phone service in favor of VOIP, it can disrupt the alarm panel’s ability to transmit signals and to handle uploads and downloads. The alarm industry continues to learn more about how to address this situation. Hillenburg notes, for example, that DMP has “done some testing and changes to our format, which you’ll probably see in 2008, that will make it better for VOIP. We’re also looking at the ability for the control panel to sense if it’s on POTS or VOIP and automatically make adjustments.”

One solution to VOIP is to use the Internet protocol for alarm panel communications functionality that some now are calling AOIP. Such systems have the added advantage of easily supporting periodic polling for UL high-security applications. The problem there, however, is that the Internet can be subject to sporadic outages — and for high-security applications that entails the added cost of a runner, who must be dispatched to the site in the event of an outage. In 2008, however, DMP will be introducing Adaptive Communications Technology that uses cellular GPRS service to back up IP, reducing the likelihood of outages.

Bosch also hopes to promote increased use of IP communications by offering a new central station receiver in 2008 that will substantially reduce the investment required to monitor IP-based systems. As customers move away from traditional phone lines, however, the industry will have to find another way to support increasingly popular two-way voice applications, Hope notes. “We’re looking at a variety of solutions. Maybe we can take advantage of VOIP, cellular or doing voice digitally ourselves.”

Other alarm industry advances are more of a mechanical nature. Napco, for example, has seen strong interest in its Freedom system, which seeks to reduce false alarms by eliminating the need to use (and remember) security codes. As Karl explains, “We knew from industry research that most false alarms occur on exit and entry, many times from mis-entering the code. Freedom eliminates codes by using a passive sensor in the deadbolt jam.” When an end user releases the deadbolt with his or her key, the system automatically disarms. Buoyed by the success of the Freedom system, Napco soon plans to introduce a code-based version of the product that can be easily converted to a code-free system at a later date.