Operators Test Home Monitors

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Blue Ridge Communications and RCN are delving into the home-security service business with vendor InGrid Home Security of Berwyn, Pa.

Blue Ridge, with 180,000 cable homes in Northeast Pennsylvania, “soft launched” the broadband-based product two weeks ago, general manager Mark Masenheimer said. RCN will initially launch the service in the Philadelphia and Chicago areas, marketing vice president David Heyman said. Armstrong Cable also is expected to announce a rollout soon, according to InGrid.

The operators said they wanted new ways to set their bundle of services apart from other telecommunications providers while leveraging their always-on, high-speed Internet platforms.

They could be reviving a business line that's been dormant since the 1980s, when some operators showed serious interest in home security while acquiring cable franchises, according to John Mansell, a longtime cable analyst and consultant in Great Falls, Va.

Operators now can package home security with video and Internet services, said Mansell. They're also starting to target businesses, potentially a more lucrative market for monitoring services, he added.

Blue Ridge charges its cable and Internet customers $24.95 for the product and $29.95 to those who buy it a la carte.

Self-installation also can hold down the cost, Mansell said. InGrid's product is designed to be installed by consumers in less than 90 minutes, but Blue Ridge offers a truck-roll option for $99.

Subscribers buy the equipment from the operators, which set the price, typically $249 to $299 to equip a single-family home. That includes eight window or door sensors, a key-fob remote and a base station that looks much like one for a cordless telephone. A kit aimed at apartments has three one-cubic-inch sensors for $199. Extra sensors can be bought a la carte.

Consumers pick where to put the sensors, which can also be used for gun lockers or medicine cabinets, InGrid CEO Lou Stilp said. Once a sensor is tripped, the home base station transmits a signal to the homeowner via the remote.

Masenheimer likes the service for Blue Ridge's customers in the Poconos, who could monitor break-ins at their vacation homes.

Like other monitoring services such as ADT, InGrid also contacts homeowners or authorities when a security breach is detected.

Cable operators handle marketing and billing and, if desired, installation, while InGrid handles monitoring via the Internet.

Heyman said RCN will take six months to gauge the offering's popularity, performance, impact on retention and other factors before deciding whether to expand it beyond the initial launch.