“Win when you can. Lose when you must. But at all times, cheat.” — Pro Wrestler Extraordinaire, “Classy” Freddie Blassie

In all human dramas, there has to be the “good guy” and the “bad guy.” Back when pro wrestling was actually entertaining, there was always a despicable villain matched against the heroic fan favorite. We see the same conflicting personas in television, movies, books and other stories. One thing I’ve figured out is that it’s the bad guy who makes the good guy “good.” If there is no bad guy, then suddenly the handsome hero may not be so admirable after all.

Continuing with the old-school cultural references, one of my favorite actors was James Coburn, who starred in the “In Like Flint” flicks, which were satires of current James Bond movies of the 1960s. My top Coburn movie is “The President’s Analyst,” in which his character is continually tormented by a secret “bad guy” organization that turns out to be named “TPC,” which stood for “The Phone Company.”

It has come to my attention via radio and television ads that a reincarnation of Coburn’s “TPC” is now entering the alarm/security market space. A huge telecommunications provider, AT&T, has opened a large showroom located on some of the most expensive real estate in the United States — the Magnificent Mile shopping district on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

The question that came to mind was whether their entry into the electronic security business makes them “good” or “bad” guys. A reconnaissance mission had to be performed, using a little Flint-like subterfuge along with a Freddie Blassie twist.

One of my good friends is Tim Newman of Acadian Monitoring Services, which is a full-service wholesale central station with facilities in the Chicago area. Tim and I decided to visit the monster end user showroom on Michigan Ave. and pretend that we knew nothing about alarms, video, or other electronic security systems. Sort of a “We’re from Missouri, how do these things work?” approach was used.

The first thing that grabbed my attention when entering the showroom was the vast size, and the number of different “lifestyle” kiosks that were set up to demonstrate the wide variety of technologies that this “TPC” is offering to its customers. Everything from smart phones to electronic musical instruments were on display, as well as some very cool devices such as an HD video projector that is about the size of two decks of cards held side-by-side.

Tim and I gravitated towards the “security” demonstration, with Tim taking the lead while I pretended ignorance on the technologies. The salesperson was very knowledgeable about the benefits of their remote control door locks, IP cameras, PERS devices, and other alarm features, but was a bit short on the technical aspects of how the devices actually functioned. It would appear from his presentation that “TPC” is offering specific packages of devices, such as their basic system that includes a couple of sensors and central station monitoring. An upgraded system provides two remotely viewable cameras, CO2 detector, along with glass-breakage and motion detection. Any AC-powered device can be controlled remotely using Z-Wave enabled AC adapters. Costs for the equipment and installation were in line with what our industry has been offering, with the bonus that, once purchased, the equipment is owned by the end user and could conceivably be removed from and re-installed in a new dwelling.

The salesperson was very professional and was able to check our zip code in Missouri (a quick behind-the-back Google cheating on Tim’s part was required) to see whether the systems were available. The key is that these systems report their alarms via the phone company’s wireless Internet network, and only in those areas are these systems available. The salesperson told us that they can take over “any” existing alarm system and convert it to their monitoring service. These systems already have been rolled out in three major markets, with 43 cities to have these systems available by October 2013.

My observations about AT&T’s security system offerings: first, they don’t call them “security systems;” these are lifestyle control technologies. I think this is a cultural change that traditional alarm companies need to make if they wish to maintain and grow their residential business. Our industry needs to embrace this concept so that the sale of a system is a positive enhancement of your clients’ lives, not just a box and sensors slapped on the walls that will “keep the burglars out.”

The second issue is that a quick glance through one of the major low-voltage equipment distributor’s catalogs shows that all of the technology that this company is presently promoting around the country is readily available today to all electronic security companies. There are no new break-through devices or connectivity being offered. All of us in the alarm industry can provide the same type of devices, control, and monitoring as the “TPC.”

I also found it quite interesting that there is no capability of recording from the video cameras included with their enhanced systems; live viewing only is available. As we all know, the true value of video is the ability to review recorded events, which our industry can provide either on local storage, within the cameras themselves, or remotely. For the moment, this would appear to be an advantage to established alarm dealers, but I suspect that this issue will be pretty quickly addressed by “TPC.”

So the question is, does this huge company’s entry into the residential security system marketplace make them “good” or “bad” guys? In my opinion, their massive expenditures of advertising dollars will stimulate the marketplace, increasing end user awareness of just what is available in updated home security and control systems. Smart dealers will prepare their product offerings to match and/or exceed the capabilities of these mass-marketed systems, while changing their sales presentations to emphasize lifestyle enhancements.

So I guess the “TPC” is like the late Andre the Giant; a “good guy,” but you’d better watch out when you’re in the ring with him ‘cause he can hurt you badly if you’re not careful and prepared.



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