How to choose an office security system

ADT Pulse

These systems are professionally installed, but they're pricey.

An ADT keypad lets you arm and disarm the alarm system.
ADT maintains a large presence in both the residential and commercial security markets. The company rolled out its residential Pulse system in late 2011, and is now marketing the same devices and services to small businesses.

As with FrontPoint’s system, Pulse combines central-office-monitored security with video surveillance and lighting, HVAC, and small-appliance control available as options. Pulse does not include access control in the form of keyless entry, but ADT can provide such systems independently of Pulse. ADT dispatches a technician—and in some cases, an electrician—to install its systems.

You can monitor, arm, and disarm a Pulse system via any computer, iPhone or Android smartphone (BlackBerry is not supported), or tablet with Internet access, but you must have broadband Internet access at your location. (ADT’s equipment must be hardwired to your router.

Unlike FrontPoint’s system, Pulse comes with its own wireless access point and creates a private wireless LAN for its cameras and control panel.) ADT’s systems connect to its own central office for monitoring via a landline, but Pulse systems also have a dedicated GSM module for cellular backup in the event the landline is compromised. You can monitor and control a Pulse system through a Web browser or with a smartphone or tablet app.

How Much Does It Cost?

ADT's Enterprise View adds two wireless surveillance cameras (this is a simulated picture--the real thing doesn't look nearly as crisp).
ADT offers three tiers of Pulse service to business customers. Premise Control ($499 before a $100 rebate, plus a monitoring fee of $50 per month) includes the wireless control panel with remote access and intrusion detection (two door/window sensors and a motion detector).

Enterprise View ($874 before a $150 rebate, plus a monitoring fee of $58 per month) adds two wireless video-surveillance cameras and a holdup/panic button.

Total Productivity ($1324 before a $150 rebate, plus a monitoring fee of $68 per month) adds a thermostat, one plug-in lamp/small appliance module (capable of supporting up to 15-amp electrical devices), and one in-wall lighting-control switch (this requires an electrician to install, which adds another $200 to the price of the system).

You can tack on more sensors, lighting controls, and other modules at additional cost (prices range from $75 to $100, including installation). To qualify for the rebates, you must sign a 36-month contract.

The ADT wireless door/window sensors function just as the FrontPoint devices do: One piece attaches to the door or window, and the other attaches to the frame. Separating the two pieces breaks a magnetic field, which triggers the sensor to send a signal to the control panel. Pushing ADT’s holdup/panic button produces the same result.

And ADT’s system behaves much the same as FrontPoint’s: If the system is armed, the control panel sends an alert to ADT’s central office, and ADT’s system sends you a text message and/or email. An ADT representative, meanwhile, will attempt to contact you to make sure that the event isn’t a false alarm.

If you think it might be a break-in, or if ADT can’t reach you, the company will contact your local law-enforcement dispatcher.

ADT’s standard indoor cameras are wireless; unlike FrontPoint’s wireless cameras, however, they’re not outfitted with motion detectors or night vision. Both company’s cameras can record video clips in response to alarm events, but ADT’s also accept programming to record video clips in response to other system events, such as if a door or window opens, or if a stand-alone motion sensor detects motion. In addition, compared with FrontPoint, ADT offers a much wider range of indoor and outdoor cameras, including analog cameras that can tie into a Pulse system via an encoder.

Lighting Control and Other Automation Features

ADT's top-of-the-line package comes with a programmable thermostat.
The automation features in the ADT and FrontPoint systems are very similar, in part because both companies use the same Z-Wave technology. You can program lights to turn on and off at certain times or in response to system events, such as a door opening or an alarm being triggered.

ADT’s Pulse system, however, can report the status of each Z-Wave device. If you want to know whether someone forgot to turn off the coffeemaker or the lights at the end of the day, for instance, you can log in to the Pulse system and verify the on or off state for the appliance module or the light switch. You can send an “off” command to any Z-Wave device using either system, but FrontPoint’s controller does not report Z-Wave device status in real time. Both systems do report sensor and thermostat status.

Will It Fit Your Needs?

ADT’s system works better in larger buildings than FrontPoint’s does, since it’s capable of supporting more sensors: You can have a maximum of 96 (lighting/appliance controls, cameras, and the thermostat do not count against that number, but keychain remotes and panic buttons do). ADT can also deploy other types of alarm systems, although they might not all be integrated with Pulse.

If you’re looking for an alarm system with central-office monitoring and the ability to have law enforcement dispatched in the event of a break-in, but you don’t want to install the system yourself, a company with local installers is a good solution.

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