More details of Rogers home security service emerge

Linda Johnson
Wednesday August 31, 2011
Written by
Rogers Communications new home monitoring system may be a sign that it’s not enough anymore for an alarm system just to prevent break-ins. The system has to be able to turn on the lights and turn up the heat before you come home.

The new remote system, Smart Home Monitoring, which allows an owner to control alarms and sensors from a computer or smartphone, can be used to do everything from turning off the coffee pot to reminding you to put the garbage bins out.

“This is very far advanced,” said Ian Pattinson, vice-president and general manger, Smart Home Monitoring, at the system’s official launch at a Toronto townhouse. “But it’s very easy to use, even for new users.”

The system provides real-time, 24-hour monitoring. When an alarm is set off, a signal goes to a central monitoring station, which alerts police.

The central feature of the system is a touchpad, a box that runs on both Rogers cable and wireless networks and is used to control alarms and sensors throughout the house. It also has a speaker phone, activated when an alarm goes off. The phone allows a person to speak to someone at the central monitoring station.

A person can also use the touchpad to get access to a host of apps — so at a touch, you can get sports highlights, the day’s weather forecast or find out what the traffic is like. Multiple screens allow a person to add the apps of their choice.
 
That’s done through the other key feature, the Rogers web portal, where the customer sets up “rules” — the instructions that control not just when alarms and sensors go on and off but also when to send out an email or text message. You can tell the system what to do if an alarm goes off or when a certain password is allowed. You can tell it to alert you by email or text message when your 15-year old is arriving home (with video or photo, if you like) or if a front window is opened when everyone is out.
 
“There’s nothing worse than not knowing what’s going on in your home,” Pattinson said. “This gives you incredible peace of mind.”

Rules also control the sensors, which can be set up anywhere. You can tell the system when to turn off the curling iron and at what temperature to set the thermostat.

“You tune it to what you want, and we’re learning that customers are finding interesting ways to do something,” Pattinson says.

The customer receives alerts by smartphone and can also use it to arm or disarm a door or window in the house and to remotely view an area. This means, of course, that when an alarm goes off and the central monitoring station sends an alert to a customer’s smartphone and web portal, the owner can see if it is a false alarm and prevent police response.
 
“The number one problem with traditional alarm systems is false alarms, but now I can control it from multiple devices,” says Pattinson. “If an alarm goes off, I have a much better idea of what’s going on.”
The system is available only in Ontario, in cities currently serviced by Rogers. (So it’s available in Kitchener, but not in Hamilton.) Customers must have Rogers cable high speed Internet. Installation costs and monthly packages run from $39.99 (Basics) to $48.99 (Essentials) and up to  $57.99 (Ultimate). Installation costs $99.99, and the touchpad starter kit is $149 on a three-year term, or $749 with no term.

The two more expensive plans include smoke and fire, carbon monoxide and water leak monitoring.
Rogers will be taking advantage of their bundling pricing system to promote the new service, Pattinson suggested.

“This is not just about home security. It’s also about home automation and energy management and a connected life with the rest of Rogers’ products. When you’ve got Rogers cable and you’ve got Rogers wireless and you’ve got Rogers Smart Home Monitoring, the entire service is going to be better together,” he said.

But even with bundling, Rogers venture is not a sure thing. Industry expert Ivan Spector said that, though telecom companies have been eager to jump into the home alarm industry lately, it has not often worked out. In Canada, Bell made some acquisitions, but ended by selling the business to ADT. In the U.S., Cincinnati Bell recently also sold off its security business unit.
 
“While there is no question that bundling services to a client — or customer entanglement — means those clients are less likely to switch providers, it will be interesting to see how Rogers fares in a fragmented, highly customer service intensive industry,” said Spector, president of Sentinel Alarm.
 
A spokesperson for ADT said his company is well positioned to meet Rogers’ challenge.
 
While ADT always takes competition seriously, Bob Tucker said, they have been in the marketplace for almost a year and already have an excellent track record in 24/7 monitoring.

ADT launched its own remote video monitoring and home automation service, ADT Pulse, in the U.S. last October, and in May in Canada. In the U.S., sales have exceeded expectations, he said. And while it is too early to know exactly how it’s going here, the company is pleased with the response they’ve had from customers so far.

“We’re happy with the way it has been rolling out and the strong feedback about how they’re able to use it in their daily lives and actually be able to save a little bit of money, in part by controlling lights and thermostats,” Tucker said.

ADT also provides excellent service, which many cable and telecom companies fail to do, he added.
“We feel that we provide a better level of service which, I think is almost as important as the monitoring we provide,” he said.
 
“We’re watching what they’re doing, but we also feel very good about the products and service we offer our customers.”

Tucker said ADT has an long-held reputation for monitoring and has extensive infrastructure, including eight monitoring centres in North America and more than 3,000 emergency dispatch operators, who handle 33 million alarm signals a year.

“That’s just huge, and nobody can match that, and we think that’s one of the key things that differentiates us from Rogers and other competitors in this space,” he said.

But Pattinson was at pains to stress that Rogers prepared fully for the launch of its monitoring system. He said the company had a “dedicated team” of more than 750 employees, who worked on the system for more than five years. They also did a lot of pre-testing in real-home situations.
 
For its central monitoring station, Rogers partnered with an emergency dispatch centre, Northern 911, which has been in business for more than 20 years, Pattinson said.
 
The system is highly secure, he added. About 95 per cent of alerts are observational — emails and casual home events— and can be accessed only by the person designated by the alert rule. Only critical alerts, such as intrusion alarms, carbon monoxide leaks and power outages, go to the monitoring station.

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