High-Tech Home Security: What's Next

More companies are looking to break into the market.

Check out many home security monitoring offers, and the services range form $35 to $75 per month (and up). In many markets, confining contracts hold you to one service provider for as many as 36 months.

In this era of home automation, it has only been a matter of time before cable companies began launching IP-based home security and monitoring services. And in the last year, it’s become a race among companies to offer the latest and greatest—most with the goal of getting you to bundle your monitoring with your other cable needs.

Most recently, AT&T announced it will launch an IP-based monitoring service to challenge Comcast, Verizon and others that are expanding into home security. But while Comcast and Verizon are marketing their home security and monitoring services to customers already using their services, AT&T is marketing its product—AT&T Digital Life—nationwide, hoping to capture the markets of giant home monitoring companies like ADT. Comcast launched its Xfinity Home security and monitoring service in Atlanta earlier this year, and the new AT&T service is testing in Atlanta and Dallas.

Like most of the new IP-based monitoring products, AT&Ts home security service offers a host of bells and whistles, such as cameras that can be used to monitor their homes from computers, tablets and mobile phones, as well as sensors for windows and doors, motion detectors, smoke and carbon dioxide alarms, and the ability to control thermostats remotely.

Meanwhile, Comcast has added new features to its home monitoring service, including indoor and outdoor night vision cameras, thermostat controls, carbon monoxide alarms and flood sensors that will warn subscribers if a washing machine or furnace springs a leak.

But despite all the fancy new services of IP-based home monitoring systems, the experts say there are both pros and cons signing over your monitoring to your cable company. So far, in the relatively untested realm of bundled home monitoring, here’s the consensus:

Price: The new services are typically less expensive than going through a dedicated security firm. Services can start as low as $10 per month.

Interactivity: Smart-security systems are purposely constructed to allow you to have more interaction with your home than you would if you just armed an alarm and left. Window and door sensors and cameras interact with apps and a control panel, letting you decide how your system will react to different scenarios.

Connections to other smart features: Since most systems are bundled with other technology, most services will allow you to control other features while you’re away, too, such as the thermostat, lights and door locks.

One extra step: If you’re accustomed to your home security system automatically alerting the fire or police department, you may have one extra step here. Many companies’ monitoring services only alert to you—not to a central monitoring station, like a dedicated alarm company’s would.

Less protection: If you’re at home during a fire, break-in or other emergency where the call to authorities isn’t automatic, it’s an added risk.

Equipment charges: Although monthly prices are low, there are sometimes one-time equipment charges that are far higher than for a single home security device—as much as $500 for a basic kit with a monitoring station and sensors. People with larger houses will need to buy extra equipment.

Other extra charges: For those who want remote control over more home devices, there will likely be even more extra costs. Services may charge extra for connectivity to a cellular network so alarms will sound even if the power goes out.

Commitment: Like some dedicated home security companies, cellular providers may require long contracts, too, so you’ll need to make sure that the pros of IP-based service outweigh the cons before you sign on the dotted line.