Back in 1989, when I first joined the home security industry, things were a lot simpler. The technology was much more limited, and it was a lot harder for consumers to differentiate one alarm company from another. You normally ended up selecting a local provider, who took a few days to install a hard-wired system that didn't do much – and that could be defeated by an intruder with a $3 pair of wire cutters.
Alarms Systems – and Companies - Not the Same Today
Technology has improved significantly since then, but that makes it harder (and more important than ever) to shop for home security. It's taken our industry a while to evolve with the times , but we're finally getting there. Or at least, some of us are getting there! Looking out at the rest of the industry, I can see the alarm industry struggling to accept many of the innovations and developments that Frontpoint takes for granted. And the sad news is that there are still millions of homes with outdated alarm systems.
Milestones of Progress
Looking back at what I think are the major steps in the recent evolution of our industry, here are a few important ones, along with the status of adoption by the industry:
- Wireless alarm sensors. These sensors allow alarm systems to be installed more easily and more quickly. They're also easier to troubleshoot, replace, and even move. And finally, wireless sensors have made it possible to sell and support fully reliable systems that the homeowner can set up themselves (DIY). In fact, most of the alarm sensors being installed in homes today are wireless.
- Cellular monitoring. If wireless sensors offer convenience, this important development offers greater safety. Long sold as an expensive upgrade, cellular monitoring is now viewed as far more secure than a traditional copper phone line (if you can even find one of those!), or Internet-monitored system. Most alarm companies at least offer cellular monitoring, but the better providers rely on it, and use cellular monitoring in every alarm system they sell – and if a company is using the Internet as a primary path for monitoring, they had better have cellular as a necessary back up.
- Interactive services. These features have been around for 15 years, and homeowners love them. It's easy to see why: imagine arming and disarming your system from your smart phone, or receiving text or email notifications on what's happening in your home – like doors opening, or losing power - even when the system is not armed. Alarm companies increasingly offer these systems, although they can be very pricey, and not that well supported depending on the provider. Read those company reviews!
- Video features. Smart cameras that allow you to look into your home any time are increasingly popular – and the good ones can even detect movement, and send you a clip of what triggered the camera. This is an area for significant potential growth, and the prices have come way down for the cameras. As with interactive services, many alarm companies have jumped on the bandwagon, but are still feeling their way.
- Smart home services. This refers to the remote control of devices such as lights, locks, and thermostats. Adding convenience to security, smart home features represent the most recent development in home alarm technology – and as such, they are harder to find done really well. But when you do, you have the wonderful sense of feeling both protected and connected.
How to Choose an Alarm Company
Going back to today's competitive landscape, as a consumer you really do want to know what you are looking for – and ask the right questions. Just because a company is big, and you've heard the name before does not mean they provide the latest technology, or the best service, or even the best price. It's great if they say they are offering the latest technology, but is it the right platform to begin with? Not all interactive services are created equal, and only the good ones rely on cellular signaling (versus landlines or an Internet connection). One example is Alarm.com: they've been around the longest, and are the best for reliability and quality of service.
Read the Reviews
As mentioned above, a great place to start is by reading all the reviews you can find – on the products, the services, and the general level of customer satisfaction expressed by an alarm company's customers. There are plenty of places to look: Yelp, Epinions, Angie's List, and even the Better Business Bureau. These sites and lots of others will tell you a lot: both about what works, and who will be working hard to make you feel safe. And after all, peace of mind is what it's all about.