Choosing a Remote Home Monitoring System

Several new products and services offer the security and serenity of knowing what's happening in your home when you're not there.


InGrid's remote monitoring system is one of several new products that uses your internet connection to keep you aware of your home's status.

The growing niche in home security is the remote home monitoring system. Sometimes considered a DIY security system, a remote home monitoring system puts control in the hands of the homeowner. The list of companies offering these systems is steadily growing, and though their products may fall under the same heading, there can be some important differences that shopping homeowners will want to know and consider when in the market for such a solution.

Remote Monitoring — Basic Principles
The concept behind any remote monitoring system is virtually the same — the homeowner has remote access to the home’s security system via IP-enabled PC, laptop, PDA, or cell phone. Depending on system specifics, users can access and view security cameras, track activity into and out of the home, turn the system on or off, and perform other tasks and control actions, all through any web-enabled device. Systems can also be set up to alert the home owner via email or text message if an alarm is tripped. Once installed, most of these systems are accessed by the user through a secure company website, and most systems charge a monthly or annual subscription fee.

Remote access informs the homeowner of what is called “non-emergency events,” like a child coming home from school or a liquor cabinet being opened. “The homeowner has knowledge of all the events that happen on the security system,” says Jim Kitchen, Director of Product Management for uControl. Greater access to and control over the home’s security system is what remote monitoring, and remote access, is all about.

Know Your Needs — Devices, Monitoring, and Remote Access
Many companies offering security products and/or services fall under the “Remote Home Monitoring” umbrella. The difference in offerings from company to company can be great, however, so it is important to know exactly what one is looking for. Within this family of companies one might shop for devices, monitoring service, remote access, or some combination of the three. The devices that make up a home security system can include the main security panel, control boxes or devices, window and door sensors, and any of the other wired or wireless devices used to detect intruders, smoke, etc. Some homeowners move into or live in a home that has an existing security infrastructure in place, and may not have a need for these devices. Those who do have this need can choose from a wide range of device options, from a professionally installed, wired solution, to a self-installed, wireless “starter kit” that can be added onto over time.

The monitoring side of a security system refers to the professional monitoring most people associate with companies like ADT or Brinks. An offsite central monitoring station is employed with workers who monitor for and respond to triggered alarms. Response can include a call to the home to verify the event as well as a call to emergency services. This monitoring takes place 24/7, and typically incurs a monthly or yearly fee. Again, some households may already have both the devices and the professional monitoring in place.

The latest addition to the home security system is the remote access feature, which is described above. This “enhanced” monitoring empowers the homeowner to have greater control over the security system, and greater access to the information being logged by the system. Typically the companies that offer this enhancement to an existing security system also offer professional monitoring, and a monthly or yearly subscription fee includes both services.

How to Choose
Once the homeowner has determined the needs, it’s time to find the company or companies that can meet those needs, and then compare the offerings to find the best deal and the best solution.

A home that does not have any security system in place might be in the market for a security solution that includes the devices, the monitoring, and the remote access. For such a household, InGrid’s “Digital Home Solution” is worth considering. InGrid offers a range of self-installed “Starter Kit” packages that include a base, a console, a control handset, and window/door sensors. Kit prices start at $129 and go up; prices can depend on whether or not a contract (1-3 year) is signed. Monthly costs cover professional monitoring (done by Guardian) and remote access to the system, which is accessed by logging on through the company’s website via any web-enabled device. InGrid sells additional sensors and devices for an expandable system, and all of InGrid’s devices communicate wirelessly 2-ways. “With 2-way communication, we can constantly monitor the health of the system,” says Fred Siegel, Chief Marketing Officer for InGrid. “Our devices have a 10-year battery life, and we can keep the system up-to-date because it is always on.”

A home that already has the security infrastructure and the professional monitoring in place might be looking for greater access to and control over the system. Such a home will be shopping for the remote access solution, and will want to consider uControl. When a homeowner chooses uControl, he/she receives a hardware box that gets wired into the home’s existing security panel. “There are only four connections to make, and it takes about 15 minutes to do,” says Kitchen. Once connected, the homeowner can log into the online site to make confirmations and begin labeling security “zones” (e.g. “Front Door,” “Garage Door,” etc.) and setting up alert notification “rules.” Not only will the homeowner be able to access and control the system remotely, he/she can determine if and when the system should send an email or text message when certain sensors are tripped. Furthermore, uControl service replaces any professional monitoring service that the home might currently subscribe to. “Our monitoring service is the same as what you would get with an ADT or a Brinks,” Kitchen explains.

Up front costs and monthly subscription fees are two logical comparison points. Up-front costs will depend on the solution. A home in need of devices (panel, sensors, etc.) should anticipate a higher up-front cost, while those that only need monitoring and access might expect to fork over a little less, usually for a piece of hardware that connects to the home’s existing security panel. Subscription costs will vary, too, and sometimes within the same company., for example, offers a variety of access plans that increase in price as access features are added, much like a cable subscription.

Additional Features and Limitations
When shopping for a remote monitoring and access solution, it is also wise to know a system’s features and limitations. One feature that a number of companies tout is “redundancy,” which refers to the system’s ability to send alerts using more than one communication path. Prompted by the vulnerability of early security systems, which connected to monitoring services through the phone line, redundancy ensures that a would-be intruder cannot “kill” service simply by cutting the phone line. uControl’s hardware device, for example, connects to the home’s existing security panel, and features “triple-redundancy.” That is, it communicates to the monitoring center via broadband connection, cellular communication, and over the phone lines. If one of those means of communication is down (say, for example, the broadband connection fails), the hardware box moves onto the next communication option, until it is successful.

Incorporating video surveillance is an additional feature that might interest the homeowner, and not every security solution supports it. iControl’s wireless, self-installed “Advanced Starter Kit” includes a wireless camera which can be viewed remotely. Motorola’s “Homesight” group of products includes night vision and motion-activating cameras — they also capture sound. “We are not seeing consumers rush to adopt cameras,” says Siegel, whose InGrid product line does not currently cover the video surveillance end of the home security spectrum.

It is equally important to know the limitations of these remote home monitoring systems and services., for example, is a remote monitoring and access service that exclusively supports GE’s security devices and systems. “Our solution supports four of GE Security’s platforms,” says Alison Slavin, Vice President of Product Development for A home with an installed system that is not GE Security brand will want to look elsewhere for the access and monitoring solution. Most companies that offer these services will include a compatibility list, or will market their solution as “system agnostic” or “panel agnostic,” meaning they are compatible with most security systems and devices. A call to these companies will help determine if an existing system is compatible with their hardware device.

Solutions at a Glance
Below are a few of the many companies that can fall under the “Remote Home Monitoring” header. We’ve noted if the company offers “Devices,” “Monitoring,” and “Access.”

iControl — Devices, Access

Motorola Homesight — Devices, Access

WiLife — Devices (Video), Access

uControl — Monitoring, Access — Monitoring, Access

InGrid — Devices, Monitoring, Access


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