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Sunday
Jan012012

NextAlarm - Internet-based Alarm Monitoring

An alarm system is an essential component of any modern home. However, many homes that have alarm systems installed don't have a monitoring service actively monitoring the alarm.  The high cost of traditional alarm monitoring service companies can be a major deterrant for many.  Many have cut the phone cord and do not have a dedicated home phone service and this can be a deterrant for alarm monitoring. 

If the high costs of traditional alarm monitoring service companies have kept you from signing up, or if you have an existing system and monitoring service but would like to sign up with a new service provider at a significantly reduced rate, or if you don't have a home phone line, but would like to have alarm monitoring service, please read on. 

 


For going on about 8 years now, I have been using the Internet-based monitoring service NextAlarm.com.  (Please note that this article is not an advertisement or paid review for NextAlarm.com.  I truly use the service and am a paying customer.)  The NextAlarm monitoring service costs anywhere between $11.95/month to $17.95/month depending on the service plan and how long you sign up for.   More details on pricing can be found here.  I typically renew at the annual rate. 

NextAlarm caters to the Do-It-Yourselfer and they provide a number of help articles and instructions for many of the supported alarm systems.   Their technical support staff can be extremely helpful as well.  Check out this page for programming tips

Please Note, you will need the installer code for your existing alarm system so that you can re-program it.  You may be able to obtain this from your existing alarm company or you many be able to completely reset your alarm system and re-program it with a new installer code.  Be aware that completely re-programming any alarm system from scratch can be a tedious process, so make sure to have all the necessary instruction manuals and make sure that you feel comfortable taking on this task.  Please review the installation manual for your alarm and/or search the Internet for more information about your specific alarm system brand and model.   

 

Alarm Monitoring via the Internet

You can use your existing home telephone line for the alarm monitoring service or alternatively if you do not have a dedicated home phone line or if you prefer to not use an existing line, you can optionally purchase NextAlarm's ABN Broadband Adapter.  The ABN uses your broadband Internet connection instead of your telephone line.  (Technically speaking it is establishing connection and communicating using VoIP)  The ABN adapter requires a Contact ID compatible alarm system; please check this page for alarm system compatibility.

The ABN hardware is a Cisco/Linksys PAP2T running a custom firmware and custom configuration for communicating with the NextAlarm VoIP servers.  If you already own a Linksys PAP2T, you may be able to contact NextAlarm technical support and acquire the custom firmware to load into your PAP2T to enable it as a ABN adapter.  

The NextAlarm ABN includes two telephone line ports and a single network (Ethernet) port.  Connect the security system telephone line to the telephone line 1 port on the ABN and connect the network port of the ABN using a network cable to your Internet gateway or network router.  

 


Alarm Monitoring Web Console

A NextAlarm account provides a simple to use web console that allows you to perform the following tasks:

  • See the current Armed/Disarmed state of your alarm system
  • Place your alarm system into TEST MODE for system testing. (Prevents Police and Emergency Services from getting called out.)
  • ABN configuration
  • Arm/Disarm security system remotely (if you have a supported security system panel.)
  • Configure E-Notify Settings (Email alerting)
  • Configure E-Notify Latchkey Alerts
  • Configure V-Notify Settings (Voice call alerting)
  • Access/Update billing information
  • Print Proof-of-Monitoring letter (for insurance companies)
  • View Alarm Activity Log
  • Setup Emergency Contacts
  • Setup Zones & Equipment
  • Open a Customer Support inquiry/ticket

We will dive a little deeper on a few of these options to further demonstrate these features.

 

Alarm Status

When logged in to you NextAlarm account, the alarm status is displayed in the upper left corner of the screen directly above the menu options.


 

Test Mode

You can place your security system into test mode for a user specified amount of time to allow you to test your system without the Police or Emergency services being contacted in the event of an alarm signal.

Please Note: the testing mode only works with security systems that support the Contact ID format.

 

Arm / Disarm System Remotely

The NextAlarm web console provides an option to remotely ARM or DISARM your alarm system.  You will need to enter a user code to arm/disarm the system and it may take up to two minutes for the action to take place.  Disclosure:  At the time of this writing, this is the first time I have seen this new feature and in a quick attempt to test this, I was not able to get this to work on my system.  It could be that I don't have something configured correctly to allow the remote arming/disarming, but it will take some further investigating on my part to try to get this working.

Alarm System Zones

An extremely helpful feature with NextAlarm is that they provide configuration options that allow you to name the alarm zones with friendly names.  So instead of getting an alert that Zone 1 has been breached, you can get a friendly notification with a helpful descriptive name such as "Garage Zone" has been breached. 

In additon to the friendly names, you can also associate the type of alert and the designated emergency responder for each zone.  See the screenshot below for an example:

 

Alarm Notifications (E-Notify / Latchkey  / V-Notify)

The NextAlarm system provides a comprehensive set of notification options to message you via email or voice call when an alarm zone has been triggered.

The E-Notify options allow you to define one or more email addresses for notifications to be delivered and allows you to define which zones should trigger these notifications.  When an alarm is signaled in one of the configured zones, a notification email is broadcast to the list of email recipients.  

The E-Notify feature also allows for email notifications to be directed to a list of email addresses based on each user code that arms/disarms the system.  This is a handy notification if you want to actively monitor when your alarm is armed or disarmed.  In the NextAlarm E-Notify control panel you can define a friendly name for each user code (user number) and discretely configure notifications for (a) ARMING events, and/or (b) DISARMING events.

E-Notify supports an option for you to define prefix text to all E-Notify alarm notification email messages.  This can be used to describe the name of the location if you are monitoring multiple sites or allow you to define some trigging text for email rule processing to prioritize these notification emails.  

The NextAlarm notification system also offers a feature called Latchkey E-Notify.  Latchkey E-Notify alerts are just the opposite of the E-Notify alerts.  Rather then sending alert notifications when an event takes place, these alerts are sent when an expected action does not take place within a configured time span.  The intended goal is to notify you when expected actions don't take place such as when you expect someone to arrive home and disarm the system or times in which you expect the system to be armed.  See the screenshot below for more examples. 

V-Notify is a seperate notification system provided by NextAlarm that works in conjunction with E-Notify.  For each alert configured in E-Notify you can enable V-Notify to place a telephone call to a user defined phone number such as your mobile number.  The V-Notify automated caller will announce the alarm event to you and then offer to connect you directly to the Police, Fire, or other Emergency number.     

 

Alarm Activity Log

An audit and activity log is available in the NextAlarm web console that records all system activity including system arming, system disarming, zone violations, system tests, communication failures, and silent alarms.  This detailed log is a very useful tool to check on alarm usage and detect if any system communication problems or failures are occurring.   



Homeowner's Insurance Discount

An added benefit to having an alarm system with an active alarm monitoring service is a discount on your homeowners insurance.  Please check with your homeowner insurance company so see what discount they may offer.  The discount alone may more than cover the cost of alarm monitoring.

 

Conclusion

NextAlarm is just one of many of the low-cost alarm monitoring systems that have emerged over the past decade.  However, it offers many advantages beyond a fair price such as technologically advanced Internet based monitoring, sophisticated alerting and notifications, web based management and configuration, and much more.  

NextAlarm has also expanded into offering new home security services and products for remote camera viewing and management.  They have created mobile apps for iOS and Android phones for viewing and controlling the cameras and security system.  I have not had an opportunity yet to use the camera solution, but it is something I have always wanted to do and will likely target in a future project.    

Going forward, I would love to see NextAlarm open up a web services platform for cross application integration with other solutions and third-party developers.  I understand that it may have to be limited API to preserve the integrity of security, but even if it were just an alarm status and notifications API that would be an excellent next step for NextAlarm.  

I have been a satisfied customer for several years and just wanted to share this solution with others who may be looking for an affordable way to maintain an alarm monitoring service.  While this article may not technically be about a home automation project, I felt that home security is an important part of any complete home system and a monitoring service should be carefully considered.  Maybe in a future project we can do some custom integration with the alarm system or find ways to mine automation information from the ABN.

Happy New Year!

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