The Missing Link

Is Wi-Fi affordable for the connected home?

The importance of telecommunication companies on the security and home automation scene is becoming increasingly apparent as more end users become educated about the latest technology. Whether through the increasingly popular TV advertisements produced by these telcos, word of mouth or their own research, many consumers are turning to dealers with whom they already have established relationships for information.

How those dealers answer the questions, though, will determine if customers’ loyalty prevails or if they turn to cable or Internet TV providers for their home security. The emergence of Wi-Fi in alarm communications is one tool helping dealers keep those relationships fruitful. While the buzz among some dealers is the concern of competitors encroaching on their territory, Wi-Fi is one of the solutions that is allowing them to view the situation as an opportunity rather than a threat.

“Wi-Fi connectivity is something that’s been talked about for a long time,” said Matt Morgan, security installation manager for Koorsen Fire and Security. “And it actually helps that there are telecomm companies out there advertising it. Now customers are coming to us for it.”

On its own, Wi-Fi gives security dealers the opportunity to set themselves apart by lowering their installation costs and simplifying the overall installation beyond anything else that’s out there. But when combined with other key advancements that have been made in the industry over the last few years, the benefits can go far beyond installation simplification. Combining Wi-Fi with self-contained systems, for instance, gives even easier access to the types of advanced capabilities that many consumers have desired, such as affordable home automation.

Furthermore, using self-contained systems that are compatible with remote- interaction services allows dealers to offer control and management of systems from personal, Internet-enabled devices like smartphones. These are all capabilities that today’s consumers have come to expect, and Wi-Fi may be the final link needed to cement their adoption.

Convenience for Both Installer and Homeowner

“Wi-Fi is something that is definitely taking off,” said Brian Phillips, service manager at FE Moran. “A lot of customers today already have wireless networks within their homes, so we are able to retrofit an alarm system right in.”

Using Wi-Fi, installers can eliminate wire runs needed to connect traditional IP communicators, a major step that greatly simplifies the process of connecting to the Internet—and alleviates the cost of hard-wired Cat 5 installation.

“It’s one less wire that we have to run,” Phillips said. “The fewer wires there are, the less time it takes for installation.”

Aside from eliminating the need for wiring, installers accustomed to traditional alarm communications channels also are noticing an advantage in connectivity.

Dealers who recently started installing Honeywell’s Wi-Fi-enabled LYNX Touch 5100, an example of a recently introduced self-contained unit that incorporates Wi-Fi, have found that the difference between time frames is significant—some report it takes literally 1 to 2 seconds to communicate.

A simpler, faster installation also benefits the homeowner. First, it obviously means less risk of structural damage that can be caused by wiring and less time an installer has to spend in the home itself. But it also means it’s easier to provide additional gadgets that operate on Wi-Fi, which can enhance the overall end-user experience.

For example, products like the LYNX Touch 5100 with Wi-Fi work with Android tablets to give end users the ability to control their security systems no matter where they are in their home. This is where the confluence of recent advancements in self-contained units can add great value to the overall system— value such as home automation and remote monitoring services. In addition to providing security, their being able to control more home functions remotely—raising and lowering a thermostat, engaging lighting—holds obvious appeal to the modern homeowner. The younger generation particularly seems drawn to the technology it has grown accustomed to—especially when it’s paired with a more reasonable price point. Early testers see the benefit of these self-contained systems’ ability to not only cut installation time—even in half—but also reduce overall training time for the end user. With touchscreen capabilities, these new solutions easily walk users though system operation.

The Business Effect

By taking advantage of the Honeywell System’s intuitive programming and touchscreen interface, Morgan was able to get an entire system up and running in an hour.

“The installation is more user-friendly and intuitive. The steps are right there on the screen, and the system walks you right through it,” Morgan said.

A faster installation, though, means more than just convenience for the dealer and end user. Phillips also noted that with the time saved in the installation process, his company could increase the number of installs from an average of one per day to four per day.

“This is top-of-the-line technology, especially with the Wi-Fi capability,” Phillips said. “In addition to the Wi-Fi capability, the design of these systems allows installers to install faster—and makes it easier for end users to understand in operation. I stepped right through the installation process, and the end users pick up on it right away, too. With this simplicity, there’s no guessing.”

While dealers see the benefits of and opportunities associated with moving toward Wi-Fi alarm communications, there is a challenge that they likewise foresee with the technology: alarm signal strength.

Dealers’ concern with alarm signal is ensuring the strength is there—before the installation occurs. Phillips noted that typically end users want the control panel logically placed right inside of the front or garage door, or even in the master bedroom, which can be particularly tricky to avoid a potentially dead area. Wi-Fi capabilities, which enable controlling these systems from a tablet or smartphone, provide an added benefit for signal strength.

Some dealers may be skeptical of Wi-Fi at first, but after testing with systems like the LYNX Touch 5100, they have been impressed with the speed and communications Wi-Fi affords. Once a proper location to place a control panel is found, the signal is stable. Common concerns of using GSM as the primary route include weather and cell towers—situations where a signal could be strong today but weak tomorrow. However, dealers typically still recommend backing up with GSM to alleviate any concerns with alarm signal strength through Wi-Fi.

Security, reliability, ease-of-use, affordability: these are features that all dealers strive to provide end users with—and yet most struggle to find products and systems that can strike that balance between high-tech and affordable. However, as the market moves toward security systems that go beyond security with home automation and remote monitoring services, self-contained systems can provide integrators with a tool to differentiate their business from competitors, while giving consumers a high-tech yet simple solution for home automation.

With advanced Wi-Fi communications and simple programming, consumers can find the types of capabilities they are demanding—and have grown accustomed to hearing on commercials produced by telecos. The key is the technology can now be delivered by companies that actually know security, inside and out.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Security Today.

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