ONE DAY, COMPUTER GEEKS WILL rule home security. For the past few years, home security hardware companies have released Web-based products that let homeowners turn the security system on and off, view a photo taken by a security camera, and turn the lights on and off. Some of the products also offer details on the daily status of a homeowner's basement, medicine cabinet, hunting closet, liquor cabinet, and jewelry boxes.

GE has a partnership with, a Web-based service that offers home-monitoring and data services via wireless connections from the home. Home Automation Inc. (HAI) offers WebLink, a Web-based remote-access feature, with its integrated home automation and security system. And Honeywell has its Symphony-i touch pads that let homeowners access sports scores, business news highlights, and short e-mail headers over the security system. Honeywell is also planning to add a feature that will let homeowners view security cameras over the Web. Video images will be viewable at home on Symphony-i, on a local PC, and remotely via Honeywell's AlarmNet monitoring service through a personal computer over the Web.

Access to this level of information puts homeowners in an unprecedented position, one that enables them to self-manage home security and potentially cut down on false alarms, a development that would please

But is self-management desirable?

What should builders tell prospective home buyers looking for guidance? Only use the Internet-based tools that let homeowners self-monitor? Or should builders offer Web-based products and traditional monitoring systems and let their customers decide?

“I think it's a matter of personal preference; it's really based on your own comfort level,” says Jay McLellan, HAI's president and CEO.

“Unless a homeowner has an extraordinary security need, a tool like WebLink lets him use the Internet to access his home while he is away. I don't pay the $30 a month for monitoring,” says McLellan. “But for people who want peace of mind, monitoring is really the only legal way that a burglar alarm can get a police officer to the homeowner's doorstep.”

In Concert Steve Trundle, president of, says his company views the Internet as a way to complement existing security services. With, a sensor sends a signal to a wireless control panel, which then sends the information or alert over a wireless network to servers. In an emergency, the server sends a message over the phone lines to the central monitoring station, which then notifies the local police or fire department. can also send e-mail or cell phone alerts for less critical events.

“I think people want to know if an unauthorized person opens their medicine cabinet when they are at work during the day,” Trundle says. “So many accidents are caused by young children ingesting poisons, falling into the pool, or getting into the liquor cabinet.”

Trundle notes that the company now has 50 authorized dealers and is adding the service to at least 30 to 40 homes a week. He says builders also use to secure spec homes, model homes, trailers, and pre-close homes up until a homeowner occupies the new house.

Kathy Kouba, CFO at North Country Builders in Lino Lakes, Minn., says the builder is using to protect two model homes at its new Ravens Hollow development. The company is building 26 single-family homes and 30 townhomes over the next two-and-a-half years. The single-family homes start at $350,000, and the townhomes start at $300,000.

“We have $15,000 to $20,000 worth of furniture and decorations in each of the model homes,” says Kouba. “Someone could just back up a truck one night and clean us out,” she says, adding that North Country plans to put an system in every unit.

Kouba says the company will install about a month after the foundation goes in and will pay for the service for about three to four months. After that, the new homeowner will pick up the tab, she says. The monthly cost for the service is $25, and initial installation costs from $350 to $1,200, depending on how many sensors the customer requests.

“You have to understand that when we started the project there were no roads, utilities, or phone lines here,” says Kouba. “Once the crooks see there's a system, they back off,” she explains, adding that the builder hasn't had any break-ins since it installed about a year ago.

Steps Ahead Companies such as North Country Builders are still rare, but there are other builders who are willing to be early adopters. David Arnaiz, president of Pristine Homes in Stockton, Calif., says that his company prides itself on being a pacesetter.

“It was a bit of a gamble on our part when we started offering granite countertops as an option, but it put us ahead of the competition,” says Arnaiz, who adds that his company closes 350 homes a year at an average price of $280,000. “We did the same thing with HAI,” he says about offering WebLink as an upgrade.

“The people who go for WebLink are the ones who go for [other] upgrades,” says Steve Ghent, president of Ghent Electric in Stockton, an integrator for Pristine Homes. Ghent says WebLink typically costs around $300.

“I call them the gadget people, the people who are really into computers and the Internet,'' he says. “A lot of them just like showing it to their friends.”

An Internet-based security tool is an excellent novelty item, but it's also a great interface.

“When we were looking at coming out with a security product, it became clear to us that it couldn't just be a keypad or a remote control device,” says Trundle. “Just about everyone is familiar [with] and comfortable with a browser by now.”

True, but the Internet exploded in 1995, and in 2004, the home security industry is still scratching the surface with Internet-based security applications. Research group Parks Associates found that only 20 percent of security dealers they surveyed last year said that 10 percent or more of the systems they sell are connected to the Net.

Another issue is that the application the techs promised a few years back—real-time security monitoring over the Web—may take another year or two before it takes off. Security Broadband, a consortium formed by the cable companies to deliver security monitoring over the Web, had two successful trials about a year or two ago, but the company can't seem to find any takers.

“Unfortunately, home security is still mostly about installing a controller and hooking it through a phone line back to a home monitoring station,” says Kurt Scherf, an analyst with Parks Associates.

Jeffery Brown, executive director of strategy and development at Cox Communications, says that its Security Broadband pilot test in Las Vegas went well, but he points out three reasons why mass deployment of a security service may take the cable companies a few more years.

First, in 2004, Cox is focused on selling video, high-speed access, and voice services. Second, Brown says the security business is shifting from a model in which the integrator or builder charges a nominal fee for the equipment to long-term monitoring contracts. He says today either the builder pays or the customer pays and that Cox needs to come up with a model that reflects the recent change. And finally, Cox wants to wait until the new crop of wireless Web cameras matures and proves it is secure enough to run traffic over the Web. The cable industry is also looking for wireless cameras to drive installation costs down.

“Security is a good business in which people are making money and doing well,” says Brown. “We'll probably start in one target market and roll it out from there, but it will be in 2005 at the earliest.”

High Alert Alerts from mobile devices and the ability to control security with mobile devices were top homeowner choices for computer-based security applications.

Perceived usefulness of e-enabled home security applications (percentage of respondents in U.S. Internet households rating usefulness as a 5 to 7 on a 7-point scale, in which 7 is extremely useful).
Alerts from mobile devices 58%
Mobile device management system 57%
Remote monitoring capability 56%
Web cameras connected to home security 47%
PC-managed home security 45%
Audio/Video baby cams 41%
Television as front door monitor 40%
*Base: 10,853 Internet Households Source: Parks Associates

Inside Alarm.Com Here's a look at how's hybrid wireless network works for a homeowner.

  • Alert sends signal from sensor to wireless panel.
  • Panel sends signal to servers.
  • Alert is sent over telephone lines to central monitoring station.
  • Source: Alarm.Com

    Life And Death There are times when only traditional monitoring makes sense.

    There's a story Steve Craig, a spokesperson for GE Security, likes to tell about a young couple who moved into a townhome above a garage before their new house was ready. One night before bedtime, a neighbor started his car and kept the car in park, running in the garage for an extended period. The couple went to bed, and as they slept, carbon monoxide seeped through the vents and into the townhouse. The security system detected the carbon monoxide, which set off the alarm, but there were no alarms near the bed, and because the couple was asleep, they never heard the alarm. Fortunately, the security system was hooked up to a central monitoring station and an alert was sent to the central station, which notified the fire department. A rescue team broke into the house and woke up the couple, saving them from certain harm.

    The next time a tech-savvy home buyer insists that the new Internet-based security tools eliminate the need for a central monitoring service, use this story.

    “There are some situations [in which] it's not good to be self-monitored,” says Craig. “It's just not a good idea to be the first responder to an emergency or fire at your house or business.”