Selecting a Security Panel
In the residential market, the panel — and its selection — remain just as important as ever.
Jim Corbett, United Alarm, Brookfield, Conn., is warmly called the “fastest panel programmer in the East” by NAPCO Security Technologies Inc., Amityville, N.Y. He can program panels like nobody’s business, having plenty of practice since he has been at it since 1974. He has seen it all — from the early panels before digital dialers to today’s wireless/interactive services-packed panels. He has even dealt with the challenges of installing alarm systems — panels, sensors and all — for five episodes of the 2007-2008 Discovery Channel show, “It Takes a Thief.” That’s a situation that demands a panel that can be installed fast and work without any glitches when the cameras are rolling.
Corbett, like everyone in the alarm industry, has definite preferences on the features he looks for in a panel. SDM asked installers like Corbett and panel manufacturers: What panel features matter the most to you right now?
After all, today there are more features to consider than ever before. Alarm panels — like most everything else in the security industry — are undergoing significant changes that encompass how they communicate alarms and other conditions to the central station; how end users access and manage them (greater use of mobile devices for controlling security systems, for example); and the increased functionality of the panel to control other things in a home.
“For years, feature to feature, things were comparable in panels, but today things have changed with the implementation of Z-Wave technologies, remote capabilities, new communications options and even new features like video. There are different features between the panels and manufacturers now that you need to examine to determine what is best for you, your staff and your customers,” observes Brad Tolliver, vice president, general manager, Electronic Security, Per Mar Security Services, Davenport, Iowa.
Brad Wilson, president of RFI Communications and Security Systems, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., emphasizes the impact the choice has on a company, saying, “The choice of the panel affects a company’s efficiency, install times, training, remote support, sales, bottom line, and more. If you look at it, all your work flow ties back into that one product.”
RFI uses Honeywell for its residential panels. “Our commitment to Honeywell has really been twofold. One, we feel they lead in the area of market awareness and marketing. And looking at their communications options with the GSM, the automation with the Tuxedo panel, the apps and remote control viaTotal Connect — their product continues to evolve while we get to keep our investments in training, support, etc.,” Wilson shares.
Per Mar’s Tolliver, who uses Honeywell panels as well, also focuses on the training a manufacturer will provide for its panel.
“Training support from a manufacturer is a very big issue to us. We put a lot of weight into that when choosing a panel. We also look to see if the manufacturer can match our product volume and timeline needs. Another thing is having consistent components across the product line so that once you learn the entry-level product you can choose any panel throughout the entire line to work with. That is important for inventory, support and training our technicians.
“Another key feature is hybrid flexibility with wireless and hardwire, so we have the choice of doing a combination of both, or all wireless or all hardwired during an install, which adds flexibility that lets us solve the needs of a particular location,” Tolliver says.
In addition to the hardware, the software a panel offers is also on installers’ radars.
“I deal with a lot products and know all the software. NAPCO’s software is the easiest to use,” Corbett says. “They allow a lot of customization with the NAPCO panel with almost every feature so whatever a customer throws out at me I can respond to it. Anything the customer wants I can actually customize for them. In fact, I can make a NAPCO panel sing if I want to; there’s that much flexibility.”
In addition to customizable features, Michael Caldwell, technician and partner, Alarm Men, Visalia, Calif., values the Gemini P1632’s feature of a PC hook-up.
“Because you can hook the panel up to your laptop you can troubleshoot a system right in the field, saving time. You don’t stand at a keypad and program. In fact, you can have everything preprogrammed in the office so that in the field they can install the system, download the program, and have the panel up and running in minutes,” Caldwell says.
New Capabilities Count
Today’s panels are much more feature ridden — by demand, describes Matthew Ladd, president and COO, The Protection Bureau, Exton, Pa.
“Utilizing the Z-Wave technology has made a big change in the panels, and a lot of the newer systems that are out there — Honeywell, Interlogix, 2GIG — are all utilizing that technology,” Ladd says. “I think the clients’ awareness and desire for more from the systems has grown over the last 18 to 24 months. We’re seeing a lot more of the smartphone control systems advertised, whether it’s an XFINITY or ADT. So our customers are seeing the capabilities, and smart companies have a panel that lets them respond to that.”
As end user demands for mobility grow, panels must specifically support apps, says Richard Nordskog, vice president, Monarch Burglar Alarm Co., Niles, Ill.
“Wireless mobility is the most important feature in this market. Because of the emergence of nationwide communication providers into the intrusion alarm industry, it is clear that the app has already, or will soon, revolutionize the intrusion alarm industry,” Nordskog predicts.
Brian Phillips, service manager at F.E. Moran Alarm & Monitoring Services, Champaign, Ill., explains that the transition to mobile capabilities is forcing installers to investigate new panels and provide the services end users are demanding.
“As mobile features continue to become the way of doing everything today, it is something that we have to stay on top of as a company. That’s where Honeywell steps in with the panel that allows mobile control and event notifications as well as the wireless video, offering them as a ‘bundle,’ which is priceless to a homeowner,” Phillips says.
There’s always been the desire to control lights and thermostats and such, shares Ladd. “But I think the panel technology has grown to the point now and the pricing of the cameras and accessories have fallen to the point where companies can choose panels that allow them to compete in that arena.
“The primary panel for residential that we use is the Interlogix (ITI) panel. We utilize that because it has the backup with the Alarm.com and has all those features I’ve been talking about — smartphone capabilities, etc. The other panel we just added to our line is DMP panels, as they have some remote capabilities as well that we are able to utilize with our managed services.”
Ladd does see The Protection Bureau’s installers spending additional time programming the new features, “whether it’s adding a camera onto the system, installing a thermostat, or even possibly changing outlets out to those that can handle the Z-wave remote control. But with so much of our residential being done with wireless now, the installation time is generally quicker overall. Plus, there is added assistance, as the new panels can receive remote assistance during installs from our people in-house,” Ladd says.
The Panel’s Power
Corbett carefully chooses the right panel for every installation.
“The customer needs to trust you to provide them with the right equipment for their location. At United Alarm, we’ll change the panel if we need more power or we need more zones, etc. because we’re always looking at the individual job to get the proper product — because at the end of the day that panel decision will eliminate future headaches,” Corbett relates.
Other “must have” features for Tolliver include the user friendliness of the panel — for the end user and installer. “I ask, ‘Is my customer going to be able to turn this alarm on and off very easily?’ We deal with a lot of customers and we’ll get every question in the world. Some panels can be harder to work with.
“Then I look at the panel from the perspective of my installers. Is it easy to work with? We want to be able to install it not only quickly, but properly,” Tolliver says.
Corbett also looks at panels constantly, reading every industry publication, going to trade shows, attending expos, talking to manufacturers and manufacturers’ reps, reading manuals to fully understand all of the features, calling tech support — all to understand everything each panel can do for him and his customers and make the best choice.
Why all the effort? Looking for headache-free success, efficiency, new opportunities, and happy customers and installers? It all starts with the panel.
Securing the Home With Sensors
Like panels, sensors are easy to undervalue. Still, without the right sensors in the right place, nothing gets reported to the panel. Visit www.sdmmag.com for an exclusive photo gallery featuring some of the newest intrusion sensors available from manufacturers around the industry and the features that make them stand out.
Manufacturers Weigh in on Panel Features
SDM asked panel manufacturers to share the features and changes they see gaining importance.
“Just a few years ago ‘wired or wireless?’ was a common point of debate; but today, the discussion is more about the details of wireless performance. Interestingly, with more and more wireless devices in use, the environment has become dense and noisy and the result: wireless security systems’ performance is prone to collisions, interference and jamming.
“Another challenge manufacturers face is how to simplify the installation for the professional installer, in order to increase their return on investment. The new Visonic PowerMaster systems answer both of these challenges, with a true two-way communication between the panel and all wireless peripherals. A great feature that drives from that, for example, is a special LED on each device that shows — during installation and after — the strength of the RF link, and by that enabling the installer to know the exact and best location in the home to place each device without the need to go back to the panel every time.” — Dalit Salman, marketing communications manager, Visonic, Tel Aviv, Israel
“With PSTN lines going away, dealers need to move toward alternative communication technologies to keep pace with end customer requirements. G Series panels — GV4 — have support for Domain Name System (DNS) technology for both remote programming and central station communication. This technology helps dealers streamline their installations at customer sites. DNS eliminates the need to rely only on static IP addresses as the reporting destination, making IP communication simple to set up from the installer keypad menu or via Bosch’s Remote Programming Software, avoiding the need for complicated programming tools. In addition, early next year, our panels will also support IPv6 network address formats to ensure customers’ investments in our products are protected as technology changes.
“Remote operation is also important, and we’ve introduced a new app to allow customers to control their systems using an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.” — Tom Mechler, product marketing manager, Bosch Security Systems Inc., Fairport, N.Y.
“One of the hallmarks of all NAPCO security systems, residential and commercial, dating way back to the ‘80s with the early use of microprocessors, NAPCO has always enabled dealers to customize virtually each and every zone in a system by many, many parameters, from zone type (like fire, intrusion, or panic) or characteristic (like exit/entry or two-wire fire) or behavior (like loop response time or chime setting), etc. I’ve heard that given systems with 100 zones or more, these myriad options create thousands of possibilities to customize a system.
“To speed installation, our programming software also enables installers to create and define special zone types of their own design, so they can reuse it at will over and over.” — Judith Jones-Shand, vice president of marketing, NAPCO Security Technologies Inc.
“Today it’s all about technology integration. Dealers are looking for ways to drive additional sales and grow their RMR. End users want convenience and simple system control. To that end, manufacturers like Honeywell have developed alarm systems that are easier to install and easy to use. For example, adding Wi-Fi for IP alarm communications on our LYNX Touch 5100 benefits both the dealer and end user. It allows the dealer to perform a faster installation — no need to run a CAT5 wire — and it lowers operating cost for Honeywell Total Connect remote services. The consumer gets the benefit of using an optional Wi-Fi-enabled tablet allowing them to control security, locks, lights and thermostats from virtually anywhere in their home. It’s a cool feature that’s gaining more and more industry acceptance.” — Ralph Maniscalco, director of marketing communications, Honeywell Security & Communications, Melville, N.Y.
“For residential systems, the focus over the last six to 12 months has been on interactive monitoring, including mobile applications, touchscreen keypads and automation devices. For dealers, it has come to the point where end users don’t want your product if it doesn’t have these features. Panels that allow mobile applications, touchscreen keypads and automation devices are also important to the dealer because they can help with the initial sale and translate into upsells and customer retention. You want the user wanting that system for more than just security.” — Mike DeMille, director of product management, Security Services, Tyco Security Products, Toronto, Canada