The Latest in Home Security

Home security

Home security (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anybody following this blog knows that I have been promoting the ideas of telecom providers getting into the home security business. I see this as one of the ways that you are going to keep yourself relevant with the advent of the internet of things.

Modern Home security centers in the homes are already a lot more than that, and they can also be the platform used for home automation and energy management. There are numerous devices being made that function as the gateway to any ethernet device in your home that can be connected with wires or with wireless technologies. These main consuls then can interface with the user through smart phones or other such devices.

Of course home security still does the basic stuff. You can set up your house with monitors on doors and windows that will tell you when something changes. But modern security systems can do so much more. Here are some examples:

  • Everything can be tied into your smart phone so that you have access to your security system at all times. You can use your phone to change settings, to peek in on any of the cameras or even to speak with somebody who is at your front door even if you are not at home.
  • You can tie normal security features in with motion detectors. This will tell you if something is moving in a room that ought to be empty. But it can also do cool stuff like alert you when anybody approaches the external doors in your house. So rather than wait until somebody has broken in you can be alerted when somebody is at one of your doors. It’s not all that useful to know when the mailman comes every day, but it’s very comforting to know that you can be alerted when somebody is at your back door at 2:00 in the morning.
  • The systems can be tied into a number of other kinds of monitors. Certainly you can tie this into smoke detectors, but you can also monitor if the temperature changes drastically in any room. You can monitor for carbon monoxide levels (and if you are really paranoid, for many other kinds of chemicals and gases).
  • New systems include voice recognition and you can talk to your system. This allows you to change settings on the fly. For example, you can just tell your system that you will be working in a certain room and to ignore monitoring that room for a while. But your security system can then help with those absent-minded people like me. If you turn off the security in an area for a while, you can set it to ask you later if you still want it off.
  • Your system can get to know you. Sophisticated systems are starting to use things like face recognition and gait sensors so that your security system will know it’s you walking around on the lawn at midnight and not a stranger.
  • And it’s all cloud based, meaning that you can get an alert if the power goes out on your system while you are not at home. Turning off the power to a home has always been a common burglar technique for confounding a security system, but the system can be set to alert your smart phone every time the power goes out.
  • And of course, there are cameras to view or record everything. You can set your cameras up with some smarts to only view unusual events or events of a certain kind so that you are only storing views of things that matter. But the cameras give you the ability to monitor pets or babysitters while you are not at home. With cheap cloud storage you can record a lot of video.
  • There are now smart door locks that are tied to the security systems. These can use some combination of proximity to cell phone, voice or face recognition to allow keyless entry.
  • For those times when you drive away from home and can’t remember if you set the alarm a certain way, your system can be tied into your smart phone’s GPS and it can ask you if you want the alarms on once it senses you away from the home. Side benefit – you are always tracking the location of your cell phones if you want to see where your kids really are.
  • You customers can monitor it all themselves. It’s no longer necessary to have the security system tied into some center that will alert the police. A customer who is never without their smart phone can take a more active role and get all of the alerts if they so choose.

Most of these changes have been introduced within the last few years and one can imagine that many more changes will be coming in the next decade. So the best platform is one that is software driven and that can be upgraded to accept new devices and new features as they hit the market.

Home Automation as a Carrier Product

Savant Home Automation Control Media Room

Savant Home Automation Control Media Room (Photo credit: Gramophone Maryland)

As a gadget guy I am interested in home automation. I stayed in the Hyatt in the Dallas airport last year which has automated rooms. I spent a great hour playing with the blinds, lighting and temperature from my bed. For a gadget nut this hotel gained a wow.

And a lot of people are interested in automating their homes to some degree. The problem they run into is that once they start investigating home automation they find a ton of different devices on the market, almost all from brands that they never heard of. And so they have no idea how to get started.

And this is why there is a product for carriers. As you probably know from reading this blog, I think that if you are a full-service provider that you need to take every opportunity to get into your customer’s homes. Meeting and talking with your customers benefits you in many ways. First, every time you meet them is an opportunity to upsell them. Second, they are able to put a face with your company so that you are not just another person they send monthly checks to. And this leads to loyalty from customers and less churn.

I have one client who has already seen the wisdom of installing home automation systems. He did his research and he picked a platform that is able to handle a number of devices and that looks expandable into the future. But this is the early days of home automation and he is not wedded to that system and he will consider a better one of it comes along.

And here is how he sells it. He will sell the equipment directly to a customer, but he would prefer that they lease it over time by signing a term contract. He makes more money on the lease and customers find it easier to pay over time. He then charges a fee to install the system to cover his technician’s time. Finally, he offers a monthly fee that will cover the labor cost of adding additional devices onto the system later. This fees basically lets the customer pay you to have you come and sell them more hardware in the future.

So what does he automate? There are a few obvious things. You connect this to the thermostat so that customers can easily change the temperature by time of day for comfort and to save money. And there is the old standby of putting light switches on the system so that they can be set to turn on and off when you wish.

But with a good home automation you can also tie in to security systems, irrigation systems, audio-visual systems, and a host of other devices like alarm clocks, smart door locks, blinds, coffee pots, you name it. With the advent of the Internet of Things, more and more devices in your house are going to have a WiFi or bluetooth interface.

A home automation system can save customers money. For instance, along with controlling the thermostat a customer can tie the system into smart blinds. The blinds can raise and lower at pre-set times to welcome the day, but more importantly to save energy by selectively blocking or letting in the sun depending upon the time of day and time of year.

You can also use motion detectors in the system so that a room responds when you enter by turning on the lights and playing your streaming Frank Sinatra. The number of options for a customer is almost unlimited and this is what homeowners find intriguing but also what they find daunting.  There are a ton of home automation systems on the market that will easily do stuff like automate the lights. But it takes programming to do the more complicated (and fun!) stuff. It’s a little more complicated if you want your house to remind you that tomorrow is your anniversary.

And the systems can all be accessed from the customer’s smart phone. The beauty of this is that you can also pre-set alarms. For instance, a customer can have the house tell them if the temperature goes warmer or colder than the pre-set temperature range. They can have the house send them a text every time somebody comes to the front door. They can check in to see that the pets or the kids aren’t killing each other just yet.

Not all home automation is serious. There are silly devices available that can be tied into these systems. Just last week I saw an egg tray that will tell you how many eggs you have left in the fridge. Doesn’t make sense to me, but if a customer wants that, then let’s make it work!

Why Aren’t You in the Security Business?

Security camera

Security camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The security business is booming. Both residents and businesses want security cameras and other monitoring devices to keep an eye on their property when they aren’t there. Everybody with a wireline network should be considering offering security services of some type. There are a number of different ways to approach the security business, as follows:

Security Cameras. Your customers are interested in security cameras. They may want them for the traditional purpose of watching their business. But they now want them for a whole lot of other reasons. Farmers want them to keep an eye on livestock and on expensive farm machinery. Residents want to keep an eye on the babysitter, the pets or the kids when they aren’t at home. People want to be able to see who is at the front door before they answer it.

Your customer can go to Walmart or Radio Shack and pick up a run-of-the-mill camera. But given a choice, your customers probably want a quality HD camera, professionally installed. There is a huge difference in the picture quality between an older analog security camera and the new HD cameras. It’s the difference between being able to see that there is somebody in your home and the ability to read the name tag on the pocket of their shirt.

Most of your customers are not going to be comfortable with or have the knowledge needed to install an HD camera properly. Ideally cameras ought to be installed on coaxial cable rather than using WiFi so that it will work if the WiFi gets knocked out. To be effective a camera also ought to be on some kind of backup power if the customer wants to be able to see what is happening if the power to the premise is cut. You will want to choose cameras that come with the ability to let the customer see what the camera sees using their cell phone.

Why is this a business opportunity? I have been advocating in this blog that telecom businesses need to decide if you are going to be a full-service provider or a dumb-pipe provider going into the future. If you are going to be a full-service provider then you should look for opportunities to go into customer’s homes and businesses. Services like installing security cameras are not going to drive a lot of revenue. Instead, it will pay for a few hours of your installer’s time, but it will give you a chance to get to know your customers better, to upsell them on other services and to create loyalty since you are the provider who will take the time to visit and listen to them.

Recording. While there isn’t a lot of money to be made in installing cameras, you can sell a monthly service to record what the cameras see. This requires you to establish a high-speed connection to the camera and to have recording devices capable of storing and retrieving video. Ideally you will only record a camera when there is something to record. This can be done by including a motion detector that will trigger the recording. Any recordings you save should also record a time stamp so that you know when the recording was made.

There are off-the-shelf systems for recording video in this manner and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But investing in this kind of product line means that you will need to do the math and figure how many customers you will need to justify getting into the business. The normal pricing for this service would consist of a monthly fee to record the images plus a fee when customers want to retrieve recordings over some set limit of times.

Monitoring. The next level of security involves monitoring and this gets into the area of more traditional burglar alarms. There are a number of well-known nationwide brands of security monitoring like Frontpoint, ADT, Vivint, Pinnacle and Life Shield.

How can you compete against the nationwide firms? The burglar alarm business has two components – selling / leasing the hardware and the monitoring function. You can buy the same security system hardware used by any of the nationwide firms. There is a wide array of different systems available. The nationwide companies make a lot of money on the hardware and the installation. They generally advertise a low price but then quickly try to upsell customers to get additional hardware. You should be able to compete and beat the pricing that these firms offer on hardware. And you can offer this without the somewhat sleazy sales tactics that many of them use. Tout yourself as the ‘honest’ firm and many people will be interested.

Second, you can now buy monitoring services on a wholesale basis. There are security monitoring centers that will act as your back office to monitor the alarms and dispatch fire and police as needed. You can easily mark-up their fees and still make a nice monthly margin for monitoring a customer.

Many customers have been through the mill with the nationwide firms since many of them deploy high-pressure sales tactics. Customers are going to prefer to go with somebody they know and trust and who gives them what they need for an affordable price without the high-pressure sales.

The Full Deal. There are also upper-end security systems available that come with the latest high-tech monitoring devices. There is a wide array of different sensors available today that let a business test for all kinds of events. The upper end systems typically are for businesses that want to do a better job of monitoring both security and safety at their premise.

Any carrier can obviously get into the high-end security businesses because anybody can buy the systems used. But my word of caution is that this business line requires a lot of research and the companies you will compete with know what they are doing.