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Need to cut through the BS on Alarm monitoring costs

Discussion in 'Security Alarms' started by blueman, Feb 1, 2012.

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  1. blueman

    blueman Guest

    I am looking for honest, unbiased, unemotional answers to this
    question. (I know it's Usenet, but one can always hope...)

    I currently have a fire & burglary monitoring policy with the local
    dominant alarm company. I own the equipment and I am responsible for
    service charges to fix the equipment.

    They charge me $36/month for straight Internet monitoring.

    National online monitoring companies offer seemingly the same service
    for $8.95/month. Or 1/4 the cost.

    My high-priced local company claims:
    - They are big (20,000 customers) - but the national competitor claims
    40,000 customers

    - Their service center is "local" -- but it's really halfway across the
    state so does that really mean anything in the day of the Internet

    - They are a "security company" vs. competitors being "monitoring"
    companies. Though not sure what that means or why I care

    - They have a 5-star UL-listed center - but the national competitor
    claims to be UL-listed and it's not clear what 5-stars means and who
    even grants such certification. Sounds like marketing hype.

    - They have 30-second average response time -- but competitor claims the

    - They say they have a better BBB track record than big national
    competitors - but the competitor claims an A+ BBB rating which can't
    be too bad

    The bottom line is that I can't see one compelling reason to pay 4 times
    the competitor rate for what seems to be a commodity service.

    - I live in a very safe, low crime neighborhood.

    - I primarily pay for the monitoring to get the insurance break.

    - I don't stay up nights worrying about fires or burglaries and in any
    case I still have the in-house alarm to warn me of a fire and scare
    off amateur burgalers.

    - I am technically adept and have no problem servicing and programming
    my system

    Seems like worst case perhaps the response time will be a few seconds
    longer in some rare cases or maybe there is a small chance they will
    make a mistake -- but the point is that there are so many other failure
    points in a security system and we are talking about rare events (fire,
    burglary) anyway.

    So, why pay 4 times as much????
  2. blueman

    blueman Guest

    I asked to avoid the emotional marketing hype and hyperbole.
    - I highly doubt 20 minutes to dispatch a fire system is the rule or
    even the exception
    - I hightly doubt test calls in the middle of the night are a regular
    feature (they staff less overnight and probably have to pay more).
    - I highly doubt it would be worth paying 4 times the amount let alone
    10 times for a protection that I barely use (the burgularly part since
    we often don't even arm the system) or the rare case of a fire where
    we are away or don't hear the alarm and need someone else to call for

    I would almost guarantee you work for one of those companies trying to
    scam users with high fees.

    Your response was a waste of bandwidth and exactly what I wanted to

    I would be happy to entertain fact-based and documented differences in
    service levels. But ridiculous generic scare stories without facts or
    logical basis are less than worthless...
  3. blueman

    blueman Guest

    That is the primary reason we have the system.
    p> system, so think that one through carefully.

    Valid point. However, the fact is that I actually know the system better
    than the senior techs at this large regional company. I use the dealer
    version of RemoteLink to access/program the DMP XR200 system. I have
    reverse-engineered much of the RemoteLink protocol and have written a
    range of perl scripts that allow me to do everything from send the local
    weather to the keyboard status line every half hour, to sending calendar
    reminders to the status line, to automatically arming and disarming the
    system with different bypass lists based on an arbitrarily-complex
    schedule (e.g., holidays, vacations, sunrise/sunset times). I can
    control my system via my cell phone by sending codes to my Linux server
    that then interface with the alarm via the RemotLink protocol. I
    actually have been tempted to distribute the Perl Library I wrote for
    this. Also, I have added and reprogrammed many sensors on my system.

    Bottom line is that I am not worried about my ability to service the
    system on my end.
    This seems to be the $8.95 type deal I am seeing.
    This is the category of my current provider though they charge beyond
    the upper range you cite since my fee is $36/month. Moreover, this does
    *not* include any service on my end. I have to pay premium hourly rates
    for any service call for labor plus materials. The service contract
    would add about an additional $15/month. Additionally, I paid full price
    labor and materials for installation up front (about $7000).

    Clearly, I am being ripped off and to make matters worse the company has
    raised my rates 50% since I first signed on 6 years ago even as
    inflation has been nil. They cited all types of bogus reasons for
    increased costs while the true cost to service me has actually gone down
    since I switched from dial-up to Internet monitoring and the company
    itself has grown in scale by acquisition and consolidation.
    Exactly, both my current provider and the ones that I am considering are
    UL certified. Thought the current provider claims some type of 5-star
    certification which I would doubt is a UL thing since UL doesn't usually
    give out gold stars :p
    Also, even my current provider only quotes a 30 second average response
    time which itself seems to be industry standard. Plus averages are just
    that - averages.
    Yes - I know how to do that and how to set the interval on that.
    In fact, one of the issues with my current way over-priced providers is
    that we get frequent transmit trouble codes and I know the problem is
    not on my end (since I have tested by constantly pinging both the alarm
    company ip address and my panel). Yet, they want to charge me an hourly
    rate for a service call.
    Good point.
    I also want to check that there is no charge on their end (not the
    fire/police) for false alarms if we accidentally trip something. We have
    kids and we get a bunch of those...
    Can you list any nationally available or local to Boston area companies
    that you have heard good things about...
    Thanks. Very helpful and seemingly unbiased approach!
    You have confirmed my assumptions.

    Basically, if you don't care about money, don't have the time to look
    around, and are not very knowledgeable/capable of monitoring and
    servicing the home end of the system then by all means pay premium

    If none of the above is true, then the monitoring itself is pretty much
    a commodity so go with a lower priced company with a good reputation.
  4. blueman

    blueman Guest

    Yeah, my overpriced current company has a whole page of "scare" stories
    of how people's houses burned down with ADT. I'm sure with the millions
    of alarms out there times decades of history that anyone can cherry pick
    a few colossal failures.

    But we live in the world of statistics and risk-adjusted probabilities
    not anecdoetes. The question is what is the additional risk to life and
    property for going with a far cheaper service vs. the overpriced
    regional monopoly. We makes such decisions all the time when we choose
    what cars to drive, whether to cross a street, whether to play a contact
    sport, etc. My guess is that we are talking millions of dollars of
    excess premiums per potential life saved and thousands of dollars in
    excess premiums per dollar of property damage averted. I can spend the
    saved dollars in much better ways with significantly higher returns on
    either safety or personal amusement.

    Also, it's hard to believe that a UL-listed service would maintain its
    certification if such extreme cases were anything but the rarest of
    outliers. Plus, anything that extreme would probably be grossly
    negligent opening them up to legal liability (but I will remember to
    check to make sure that any company I choose is insured in case of the 1
    in a billion case that my house burns down when we and our neighbors are
    not around to hear the blood-curdling alarm and when the monitoring
    station happens to choose that unlucky moment to take 20 minutes to
    I will also check the refund policy in such cases where the call center
    operators have nothing better to do than pester us in the middle of the
    night with test failures and other crank calls (by the way my current
    system monitored the regional over-priced monopoly wakes us up all the
    time with transmit failures in the middle of the night).

    I truly must laugh at how transparently biased and agenda driven the
    respondants post is. Makes me chuckle...
  5. blueman

    blueman Guest

    Just to clarify, I have a DMP XR200 system and I understand that not all
    monitoring companies cover DMP
  6. Bob La Londe

    Bob La Londe Guest

    Yeah, but DMP can send other formats than DMP format. I thought you were an
    expert on it? I've got a bunch of DMP panels out there sending contact ID
    because it works better for the particular application.
  7. doug

    doug Guest

    The bottom line is that alarm monitoring service is pretty much a commodity
    nowadays. The reality is there is little difference in the monitoring
    service if you pay $10 or $30 per month, the issues may come if you need
    maintenance or repair service.

    We no longer provide service to fire or burglar alarm systems that we don't
    monitor and most service companies won't provide repair service to any
    system they don't monitor, or if they do then they charge a premium price
    for the service and don't attach any priority to it.

    So, if you can handle the repair/service in-house, or are prepared to pay a
    premium for repair service and save a couple of hundred per year on
    monitoring, then take the lower cost monitoring, but be prepared to pay
    substantially more for repair service if and when it is required.

    We charge $35 a month for fire alarm monitoring and make no excuses for not
    being the lowest price, do you get better monitoring service with us than a
    $10 per month company, probably not. What you get is a prompt, reliable
    response when you need service or repair, something you are unlikely to get
    with the lower priced monitoring service

  8. blueman

    blueman Guest

    All of what you say makes sense and you certainly have the right to
    charge whatever the market bears in our capitalist sytem. I would do the
    same if I were in your situation.

    For me the alarm system is pretty simple to diagnose/repair. Heck the
    XR200 panel still uses a Z80 CPU and I was designing and
    building computers with that processer 30 years ago.

    In any case, the current company doesn't really fix much themselves
    anyway - they just swap parts. These parts are readily available online
    for a fraction of the cost they charge anyway. I don't even mind going
    for a few days without service. My house is over 200 years old and
    survived fine for its first 200 years without any alarms or monitoring.

    By the way, the current company which installed the system did a pretty
    crappy job in some areas with a number of the connections just twisted
    together rather than soldered or connected with a solderless
    connector. After a few years, I started getting faults which I tracked
    down to these bad junctions. A little blob of solder fixed it all.

    Bottom line though is that if you know simple electronics and computer
    programmming, alarms are actually quite simple...

    Just out of curiosity, does your $35/month include service or is that an
    extra charge?
  9. blueman

    blueman Guest

    Yes I am aware of that but my preference was to stick with DMP
    format. Maybe I should reconsider.

    Does one lose any granularity of information in using another format?

    By the way, I didn't claim to be an expert on any or all aspects of DMP. I said
    that I know the panel better than the senior techs at the current
    company. They just know what they are taught and what they use
    day-to-day and there is frequent turnover. It's not rocket science and
    the techs are not engineers by any stretch of the imagination.
  10. doug

    doug Guest

    The $35 is what we charge for Commercial Fire Alarm monitoring, it does not
    include service.

    We charge $22 for Residential monitoring, again that does not include

    We don't have any residential accounts where service is included, but the
    $36 that you are paying is inline with what some of our commercial customers
    pay for burg monitoring with repair service included

    Commercial burg monitoring rates vary depending on if service is included
    and if service is included then the cost would depend on the size and
    complexity of the system.

  11. Bob La Londe

    Bob La Londe Guest

    Well, I was wondering how he got a copy of the software, but stranger things
    have happened. I have Ademco profiles for some of the big players. They
    just showed up in my mail one day in an unmarked envelope with no return
    address, and an unreadable postmark. Since I never used them I might not
    even still have them. I threw a lot away when I moved the office a few
    years ago.
  12. blueman

    blueman Guest

    Excellent point! You are totall right about "security companies". The
    irony is that while my current company was slamming the low cost
    national competitors as just "monitoring companies" they themselves do
    only 2 things: (1) make money monitoring (2) make money installing and
    servicing the monitoring devices.

    Not once in 7 years of service have they mentioned one single word about
    physical security. Even their mailings to me are all really just ads for
    more electronic services and boasts about the size of their new
    monitoring center. Even when they did the wired installation which took
    about 3 days, they never once made a *single* suggestion about physical
    security. All they did was fished wires through this old house.

    While you are totally right about physical security, I tend to not worry
    too much about it in my neighborhood since we literally have been rated
    the safest city/town in the US. That being said, I probably should still
    pay more attention but...
  13. blueman

    blueman Guest

    - Would you like to see the code I wrote that reverse engineers the DMP
    ICOM protocol? (this is the protocol that DMP doesn't show anybody)
    - Would you like to see a screenshot of my full version of Remote Link?
    - Would you like to see a screeshot of me accessing the programming via
    the display devices?
    - Would you like me to send you pdf's of all the full DMP installation
    and programming manuals?

    You would be surprised at how much you can get by being 'nice' to the
    installers, especially when you are able to help them by teaching them

    Just because you lack the skills to either access or figure out this
    information by yourself, does not mean that others do too...
  14. blueman

    blueman Guest

    As I said, they gave it to me since I was helpful to them when they were
    beginning to rollout Internet monitoring since none of the techs then
    knew very much about computers or the Internet...

    However, I was able to reverse-engineer the protocol even without
    RemoteLink since the DMP ICOM protocol is not encrypted. It just
    required a little listening using Wireshark to figure out the protocol
    and see that even the remote key is transmitted in the clear...

    Maybe one day I will post to this group all the *gaping* security holes
    in the DMP internet protocol in general and in the setup of my alarm
    company in particular that would allow anybody with even a rudimentary
    knowledge of computer programming to cause all type of
    havoc both to individual customers and to the alarm monitoring companies
    that service them. The holes ae big enough to drive a truck
    through. Sadly, even the most low-end e-commerce company uses
    inifinitely better security on their websites than DMP uses in its
    protocol. Kind of ironic given that we are supposedly talking "security"
  15. blueman

    blueman Guest

    Well, the 'uneducated' installers at my alarm company are taught to
    twist and solder. Unfortunately, the ones that did my installation were
    lazy and "forgot" to even solder about half the connections -- they were
    just twisted. So by going back and soldering the joints, all I did was
    bring the installation up to the level that the installers are supposed
    to do according to their training.

    Unless you are in some type of hostile environment (outdoors, near the
    sea, chemical exposure), a good mechanical + solder connection should
    last pretty much indefinitely. How do you think components are connected
    inside the panel? I have made solder joints 40+ years ago that are still
    good. If your joints are twisted, soldered, and taped in a 'normal'
    environment and still failing I call either "bullshit" or that you are
    not as good at soldering as you think. Perhaps you have some cold solder
    joints? In 40 years of doing electronics, I have never seen a properly
    done solder joint fail by itself (of course enough mechanical twisting
    will break the joint but the wire itself would typical break even
    ealier). Also, in my experience, CRIMP connections are at least as
    likely to fail since a lot of people don't do a good job crimping -
    either too much or too little crimping force or they don't insert the
    wires properly. Also, a solder joint is both a mechanical and a
    chemical/welded connection, so it is theoretically electrically superior
    to a crimp connection.
    That is why I have an alarm. My only claim is that the combined chance
    of fire plus nobody being in or near the house to hear the alarm plus
    the 'national' company taking 20 minutes to respond is pretty low. All
    of those events (except maybe the second) are very low probability. The
    chance of all 3 failing at the same time for any given individual
    consumer (e.g., me) is extremely low (the product
    of 3 low probabilities). Of course across the entire country there
    may be a couple of anecdotes per year of such combined failure.
  16. blueman

    blueman Guest

    Well, you would be pretty *stupid* to be overpaying for commodity
    service. Both products and services are source all over the world. If
    the quality is the same, why overpay for computers, software or anything
    else.. You do know that most computer parts are manufactured and
    assembled overseas. Even Apple, that paradigm of a quality US company,
    does nearly all of its manufacture and assembly overseas.

    Of course, here I am just talking 'outsourcing' to another state in the
    US. Hardly radical in the 21st centruy. I wouldn't think that there
    would be too much of a language barrier with someone in Kansas calling
    my fire or police department.
  17. blueman

    blueman Guest

    Pot meet kettle.
    I take that as you walking away with your tail between your legs...
    Always interesting how people resort to name calling when confronted
    with facts...
  18. blueman

    blueman Guest

    Considering all the useless noise you add to this group, you must be one
    of those 'sleazy' alarm scam artists that gives the whole industry a bad

    So far the sum total of your contribution to this group has been:
    1. Post false accusations
    2. Name call
    3. Post irrelevant information as a 'scare tactic'

    Please keep your noise on another thread...
  19. doug

    doug Guest

    Not really

  20. blueman

    blueman Guest

    Well if your troll detector is as good as your ability to count my
    posts, then that would explain why your troll detector is also
    experiencing such a crazy false alarm :p

    I truly hope that your alarm installations are a bit more reliable and
    less prone to such wacky false alarms :p

    (NOTE: for the humor impaired, I am teasing! I really appreciate
    tourman's willingness to be helpful and am very thankful to him. Thank
    you tourman!)

    Since I actually know a thing or two about the Internet, I did a trivial
    google groups search on myself: "+author:blueman
    +author:<>" and found a grand total of 490 threads
    containing a post from me going back to 2003. Even that includes a
    number of posts that are by someone else with the same id. Many of the
    windbags on this group probably post more than that total 9 year volume
    just to this newsgroup in one month :))

    I truly appreciate the few (including tourman) helpful posters but the
    majority of participants here seem to be more interesting in scaring off
    people and protecting their security system guild than in helping other
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