For decades, the penetration rate of residential security systems has been hovering around 20 percent. However, technology advancements, mobile communication and consumer expectations seem to be finally driving that rate up and bringing home automation and interactive services along for the ride.


A few years ago, it was considered novel to use desktop PCs or laptops to control a residential security system, and many thought it groundbreaking to arm a system with a simple text message.


“Today, it’s pretty much a standard expectation for a security system to offer remote control though devices such as smartphones and for providers to include mobile control of home automation technology including lighting, locks, window shades, etc.,” said Ralph Maniscalco, director of marketing communications for Honeywell Security Products Americas.


Such technologies and interactive services will only improve market penetration, Maniscalco said, when the industry finds ways to take advantage of existing equipment already installed in the home.


Jay Kenny, vice president of marketing for Alarm.com, Vienna, Va., maintains, however, that it is smart devices, operating through the cloud, that are making interactive services more affordable and do not require the homeowner to develop an infrastructure to remotely control security and home automation systems.


“It is the very explosive adoption of smartphones and connected mobile devices over the past few years that has made technology more accessible to the homeowner and has led to consumer expectations that the technology should enable them to control all home systems remotely,” Kenny said.


Yann Kulp, vice president strategy and business development, Eco Business North America, Schneider Electric, sees the entry into the market of new providers of interactive services, such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, as the force that is going to drive the costs for homeowners down and the value proposition up, leading to an increase in market penetration.


“Consumers are expecting everything now to be mobile, and providers are offering the services that resonate with them in response to that very expectation,” Kulp said.


Are there other consumer expectations beyond mobility that are driving the residential security market? 


“In addition to mobility, people want reliability. There is a flood of new, nontraditional competitors hitting the market every day, making the choices potentially overwhelming for the homeowner and making proven reliability one of the key differentiators,” Maniscalco said.


Another important consumer expectation, according to Kenny, is increased product and education advertising that demonstrates to consumers what services can be subscribed to and controlled by mobile devices. 


“The fastest growing add-on service, from our perspective, is energy management. The industry is only starting to educate consumers of these technologies and their advantages to the home,” he said.


Maniscalco said promoting these systems’ ease of use is more critical today than ever. The flash, he said, grabs the consumer’s attention, but practicality is really what helps close the sale.


“Mobile apps that are well-suited for in-house demonstrations are very valuable in this regard,” he said. 


For example, when an installer can pull out an iPad and demonstrate a product’s functionality for the homeowner, it helps him or her to see how easy the product is to use. Once the homeowner sees that, he or she will be closer to wanting to buy.


Since one of the advantages of connected security systems is that the components have to be installed, it puts contractors in a position to leverage their expertise and promote the technology and expand into new horizons.


“Contractors can use their understanding of the construction market and customer needs to work and partner with architects, builders and homeowners to sell more than just the electrical installation,” Kulp said.


Security dealers are another important partnering opportunity as more of them are looking to work with skilled electrical contractors to include more components in the security system installation, from lighting switches and outlets to energy monitoring, thermostats and smart plugs.


“Security installations are becoming more complex and require the contractor’s knowledge and expertise,” Kenny said. 


From the contractor’s perspective, they need to ensure they are installing the correct equipment that interoperates with the necessary communication protocols.


As the industry moves forward, electrical contractors need to be able to work with integrated home systems, Kulp said.


“Once the security platform—such as cameras, sensors and controls—is in place, integration enables the cross-sharing of information with other systems and allows the homeowner to improve and simplify home operations,” he said.


The adoption of smartphones and tablets will continue to grow, and the presence of broadband in the home, the demand for touchscreen interfaces, the expectation of system integration, and the use of cloud-based services will also increase. Electrical contractors that don’t step out of their comfort zone and engage this market might very well lose market share.