The Connected Home: Carriers, Vendors Address Home Automation, Security


The Connected Home: Carriers, Vendors Address Home Automation, Security

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines  |  February 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY Magazine.

Folks in the industry have talked about the connected home for years, but various new developments could mean that the connected home for the average American is moving closer to reality.

With the economy as it is, and the “greening” of America, more consumers now are looking to lower their energy consumption and costs. Meanwhile, telephone and cable TV companies are under threat by the over-the-top providers, satellite TV and each other. Delivering home automation solutions can provide a service provider with a whole new revenue stream and give it one more thing to tie customers into its service offering.

Verizon (News - Alert) is among the service providers readying to introduce a home monitoring and control service. The service, which the company demonstrated to press at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show, is now in trial with less than 1,000 Verizon employees whose homes are on the company’s DSL or FiOS (News - Alert) networks in New Jersey, says Ann Shaub, director of consumer product management at Verizon. If all goes as expected, she says, Verizon will launch the service commercially across the company’s network footprint at the end of the first quarter of 2011.

The service will enable customers to use their smartphones, computers and/or FiOS TV services to lock doors remotely; see what's going on at home via networked cameras; and adjust, control and set their appliances, lights and thermostats.

Verizon’s Home Monitoring and Control interface allows the customer to turn off an individual lamp, for example, get an energy reading on that particular lamp, and even view a graphic that indicates how that energy usage compares to other products, explains Hassane Bouhia, group manager of Verizon broadband solutions. Customers also can tap into the Verizon interface to see their total home energy consumption and gets tips on how to realize energy savings.

Shaub adds that Verizon won’t say that its service will lower the consumer’s energy costs, but it will give them the tools to make their own decisions around energy consumption.

While it can be interesting to look at your energy consumption, few want to make a full-time job out of it, so the Verizon service enables consumers to create various “modes” for home automation, says Bouhia. For example, a vacation mode could allow for lights to be turned on and off automatically at certain times of the day or night.

The service also has some wireless tie ins. For example, if the user wants, he or she can receive text messages if, for example, there is activity on his or her home security camera. Also, there’s a mobile application for the Home Monitoring and Control service, so customers can have the same experience on their mobile as they would accessing the interface via a computer or FiOS-enabled TV.

Verizon is also keenly focused on validating the customer experience and service set up during the Home Monitoring and Control service trial, adds Shaub. The company has various kits customers can select from that allow for control and monitoring of select parts of the home – such as light fixtures or the home camera for self-service security – as well as a whole home solution. She adds that Z-Wave technology allow for plug-and-play functionality of these various Home Monitoring and Control kits.

As discussed in the October issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY (page 6), Z-Wave stemmed from a technology called Zensys, now owned by Sigma Designs , that employs wireless mesh network technology that can be used in the home. The solution has been in the market for eight years and millions of products – from locks to thermostats to light switches – based on it have been shipped, says Mary Miller, director of marketing for the Z-Wave Alliance.

“It’s really bringing home control to the masses,” Miller says, adding that if you’ve ever seen an Apple (News - Alert) commercial in which a vacationing family uses an application to turn off their home lights remotely, you’ve seen a Z-Wave demo.

Sam Lucero, practice director for M2M Connectivity at ABI Research, says until now home automation has been a niche business aimed at those with $100,000 to spend or at do-it-yourself technophiles. The Verizon service, which is based on the 4Home platform (which Motorola Mobility bought last month), makes home automation and control accessible to the average consumer, unlike solutions from companies like Control4 or Exceptional Innovation, which are more advanced platforms aimed at specialty distributors, or AMX or Crestron Electronics Inc., which are aimed a luxury home installations, he says.

Of course, Verizon is the only service provider dabbling in home automation and control, he adds. Comcast is using a platform from iControl, a company in which the cableco and other big names like security firm ADT, Cisco, Intel (News - Alert) Capital and General Electric have invested. In November iControl announced a merger with another home automation outfit called uControl. The newly combined entity, which leverages ZigBee and Z-Wave technology and well as iPhone and Android (News - Alert) apps, keeps the iControl name, leadership and headquarters.

And, according to reports, AT&T recently bought home automation company Xanboo. However, the company may be trying to downplay the purchase, as information on the deal is not available on either company’s website and AT&T didn’t respond to INTERNET TELEPHONY’s request for comment on the matter.

While every service provider’s home automation offer will be a little different, Lucero says it looks as though some of the cablecos will train staff on installation of such services and deliver fully monitored, UL-listed security offers as part of the mix. That may be because of their choice of the platform from iControl, which has a strong security bent. Meanwhile, on the telco side, players tend to want to take a more hands-off approach to the security aspect, instead offering consumers the ability to monitor their own homes through telco-provided cameras and interfaces.

Meanwhile, traditional security companies like ADT are expanding beyond their core business to deliver home automation services and tools that allow customers to control remotely their blinds, home appliances and the like.

Verizon has not yet announced the pricing for its home automation services, but Shaud says it will be in the “sub double-digit range.” She declines to comment on the pricing for the kits.

ABI Research’s Lucero says such services could bring in $20 to $30 a month of recurring revenues for service providers. And he expects more service providers to jump into home automation and monitoring services in the year ahead.

Home automation and control vendors are also moving forward with initiatives that should make Jetson-like homes more accessible to your everyday Joe. For example, Lucero says, Control4 is in talks with consumer electronics vendors to port its software into various home electronics products such a TVs and set-top boxes.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi