For Gregg Perreault, home security is just a cell phone keypad away.
The Baltimore County businessman uses his cell phone to control the wireless alarm he installed at a Middle River home he has renovated for sale. If somebody trips the system, he gets a text message. If a real estate agent or subcontractor wants to get into the house, he can deactivate the alarm with his cell phone keypad - from anywhere in the world. With new appliances and valuable copper pipes in the vacant house, it's a system that gives him complete peace of mind, he said.
"It gives me a real, real tight grip on exactly what's going on at my property every day," Perreault said. "It's impossible to get into this home without me and my cell phone."
Perrault is an early adopter of a new wave of home security systems that consumers can expect to see over the next year - and he doesn't even have a system with all the bells and whistles that are available, such as remote video surveillance beamed to your phone. Start-up companies and the rapid progression of Internet-based systems have helped fuel new ideas on how to secure the home - helping push a historically slow-moving industry into adapting new technologies.
With some of these products, homeowners will have virtually full control of their home security systems via the Web, including the ability to watch live video on their cell phones or computers from cameras positioned inside and outside the home. The cameras can start taping as soon as an intruder trips a motion or door sensor, and within moments, short bursts of video are beamed to the homeowner's cell phone.
In years past, such video surveillance technology might have cost the consumer a few thousand dollars to install and far more than $40 or $50 a month to monitor, which is what some companies like Alarm.com say it will soon cost consumers for more functionality and features.
The technology won't be available just from alarm companies, but other new competitors, such as wireless, broadband and cable providers. Diverse companies are all racing to build products and services that will remotely network the home, enabling consumers to manage security, energy consumption and multimedia entertainment - even monitor their children's activity.
"There is definitely a trend in using the iPhone and other smart phones as a user interface for these remotely managed security systems," said Sam Lucero, a senior analyst covering home automation security for ABI Research, based in Long Island, N.Y. "I think the trend is toward enabling remote monitoring and tying in security functionality with other types of home automation technology."
At least for home security companies, the potential for consumers to adopt the new gadgets has implications for an industry that's seen its growth slump in recent years, as the U.S. housing market has slowed, according to Parks Associates, a Dallas-based firm that covers digital consumer technologies. About 25 percent of households have some type of security system, and 19 percent pay for monthly monitoring, where a company would automatically notify emergency services upon alarm activation, the firm reports.
Perreault uses a system he bought from FrontPoint Security, a local vendor selling systems that integrate with Alarm.com, a company based in Tysons Corner, Va. Alarm.com takes credit for being the first in the industry to introduce an application for the iPhone and the Blackberry - two sophisticated smart phones - which allow users of the system to watch live video from Web-based cameras positioned in the home.
The system that Perreault installed uses wireless cellular network technology, so the only wire he needs to run is to connect it to a power source. The unit, which is made by General Electric, has a backup battery. He was able to install the main unit and the sensors himself, and he can configure and customize it easily through a desktop Web application.
He pays about $30 a month for the service but saves money by not paying for the monthly monitoring fee, so he would call police if he's notified of a break-in. In the winter, he can add a temperature sensor that alerts him if the temperature drops below freezing - which already saved him once from possible frozen pipes at a house he was renovating.
Best of all, he says, when he sells the house, he can easily remove the entire system and put it in a new property he's renovating - without having to worry about setting up a new landline telephone. "I'm using it at a real bare-bones level and it's fantastic," Perreault said.
Mary Knebel, vice president of marketing for Alarm.com, said prices for professional system installation can range from $500 to $1,200, with monthly monitoring that starts at about $25 a month. (Though some dealers, such as FrontPoint, allow consumers to save money by buying the equipment and configuring it themselves.)