A security system that also lets homeowners control appliances and thermostats remotely using a smartphone is being offered by Rogers Communications.

Ian Pattinson, vice-president and general manager of Rogers Smart Home Monitoring, a new service that launched in Ontario Wednesday, said his family uses the system to arm security, turn off lights, automatically shut off devices such as a curling iron and adjust the thermostat in a single step when they leave home. Further adjustments can be made using his iPhone while he is out of the house.

"I'm connected everywhere," he said at a media demonstration in Toronto. "If an alarm goes off, I have a better idea of what's going on. This really gives the homeowner incredible control."

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Ian Pattinson, vice-president and general manager of Rogers Smart Home Monitoring, shows how his home can be monitored and adjusted remotely using a smartphone app. 'I'm connected everywhere,' he says. ((Emily Chung/CBC))

The system at Pattinson's cottage sends him text messages when the power is out or the temperature drops below 6 C. And he receives photos from a security camera whenever someone has been checking out the property.

The technology, which Rogers hopes to make available outside Ontario soon, consists of an interactive touchpad that controls a typical security system monitored by Rogers from a central station for a monthly fee. The system has both cable and wireless connections, and is only available to Rogers cable high-speed internet customers. 

It integrates email and text messaging to keep homeowners informed. Sensors and cameras detect motion, smoke or carbon monoxide or allow automatic or remote control of small appliances, thermostats or lights to save energy.

Adjustments can be made through the touchpad or through an iPhone or iPad app, although Android and BlackBerry apps are in the works.

Erica and Anthony Antonelli are among the 750 Rogers employees and their families who have been using the system recently as part of a final test before launch.

Anthony, 41, said he was initially most interested in the security features, as he and Erica, 39, have a new four-month-old daughter, Luciana. But the family has found other uses for it.

"The thermostat we use like 20 times a night," he said, adding that there are several flights of stairs between the bedroom and the thermostat. Now the couple can make it warmer or colder using the iPad beside their bed.

Privacy built in, Rogers says

Ann Cavoukian, information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, said this kind of emerging smart home technology can bring "significant benefits" to people's day-to-day lives. Privacy concerns may only surface if the personal information is sent to a central monitoring station, she said in an email Wednesday.

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Plug-in sensors allow small appliances such as coffee pots to be controlled and monitored remotely. ((Emily Chung/CBC))

Pattinson said building privacy into the system was important. He noted that the central monitoring system doesn't have access to the cameras, information about doors opening or closing, and don't get copies of the emails and text messages with pictures. Each user has a personal four-digit code that gives certain rights to use the system, and that must be entered in addition to a Rogers password in order to control appliances or the security system.

He added that the sensors, which cost $49 each, are encrypted and the company has employed "white-hat" hackers to test the system's security.

"Unfortunately, hacking happens everywhere," he said.

He added that the user has some responsibility too, to ensure no one can access the text messages, emails and photos sent by the system if his or her smartphone is lost.

"You should always have it password locked," he said.

Emily Taylor, an analyst with IDC Canada who follows consumer technology and services including home automation, said many telecommunications companies in the U.S. such as Verizon and AT&T have already launched similar services, and they are a growing trend. Bell briefly entered  the home security market in 2007, but cancelled its service in 2008.

Taylor said the high cost means smart home and security technology currently appeals mainly to wealthier households, but the involvement of telecommunications companies could help drive it into the mainstream.

Rogers is selling the control touchpad and one door or window sensor for $749 or $149 with a three-year contract and charging $99 for installation. Sensors are $49 each, though there are bulk discounts. Service fees range from $39.99 to $57.99 a month.