If you have a satellite office or even an office trailer way out at the back end of the yard where you've wished you could do some things by remote control, now's the time to make that a reality.

A new service from iControl Networks, Palo Alto, Calif., lets you monitor and control remote offices via the Internet using a standard browser on your PC, cell phone, or PDA. Because it ties into existing technologies rather than being a stand-alone hard-wired system, it's easy to install and set up.

The iControl system can alert you to maintenance needs, provide limited security information, and allow you to switch certain things on or off, such as a light. It uses cameras, sensors, and other devices placed at a home or business to get pictures and alarm information, as well as send text or e-mail messages to let you know what's going on.

The key piece of hardware is the iControl box connected to your local area network using a standard Ether-net cable. That device enables the system to remain connected to the Internet without having to go through a local PC that would have to be on all the time. Of course, it does require a broadband Internet connection and a subscription to the iControl service, which is $14.95 a month.

Pick your version

The company offers standard, advanced, and premium starter kits that allow you to jump in with as big a splash as you wish. The standard starter kit costs $599 and includes an iControl box, web camera, door/window sensor, lamp module, motion sensor, and key-chain wireless remote.

For $100 more, the advanced starter kit includes a wireless camera instead. And if you're interested in being able to raise and lower the temperature, you can opt for the $849 premium starter kit, which includes the wireless camera and an iControl thermostat. Other available modules include sensors for water, freezing temperatures, carbon monoxide, heat, and smoke.

If it's beginning to sound a little complicated, don't worry. It turns out that most of the sensor modules don't require wires. You can just hook the control box into your network, place the sensors using double-sided tape, and you're ready to configure the system.

That's where the subscription to the iControl service comes in. Each user has a secure, personal portal he can access through a Web browser on a PC, PDA, or cell phone. That's how you configure, view, and manage the service. The software is Web-based, so there is nothing additional to install on your equipment.

Keeping a record

Through the Web portal, you can easily see the current status of the remote sensors, a record of which sensors have been activated and when, pictures from the Web camera, and any device schedules you have set up. It's also where you can set schedules for devices to activate, as well as pre-define actions when devices are unexpectedly triggered.

You also can receive e-mail or text message alerts when devices are triggered. The tabular organization also makes it easy to navigate.

For more information on the service, visit www.icontrol.com.