Back in the late 1990s, futurists in the cable industry envisioned a day when there would be embedded TV screens on refrigerator doors, from which we could not only watch TV but program our refrigerators to do such high-tech tasks as ordering more milk when supplies ran low.
Unfortunately, most people didn’t see a clear connection between refrigerators and cable TV, and the "refrigerator prediction" became kind of an industry laughing stock. Now, the futurists may be getting the last laugh as home monitoring, appliance control and home security finally are coming into their own.
One of the notable news announcements at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was Verizon’s new Home Monitoring and Control Service; Verizon is working with 4Home Connected Solutions, a division of Motorola Mobility. Verizon is using 4Home’s connected home products on its Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G network to offer real-time services that initially will include energy management, home video monitoring, home health and media management. (For more on Verizon, see page 10. More information on LTE troubleshooting and maintenance will appear in the March 2011 issue.)
"We continue to see more leading service providers entering the connected-home market," says Bill Ablondi, director of home systems research at research firm Parks Associates. "Not only is this suite of services an ideal extension of service providers’ current offerings, our research shows that consumers desire to be connected to their homes as well as to other people."
Verizon’s Home Monitoring and Control offering currently is in the trial phase and is expected to be available in the first half of 2011. It will enable customers to lock doors remotely; to see what’s going on at home via networked cameras; and to set, adjust and control lights, smart thermostats and appliances – all by using a smartphone, a computer or through FiOS TV.
The pilot program for Home Monitoring and Control is being conducted in New Jersey. The homes selected for the program will be outfitted with an energy reader, smart appliance switches and thermostats, a smart power strip, a smart door and window locks, motion sensors, an advanced pan-and-tilt camera, and a fixed indoor and outdoor camera.
"The concept of the connected home has been discussed for many years, and now Verizon’s high-IQ networks are making that concept a reality by converting customers’ homes into bandwidth-rich ecosystems that enable a wide variety of customizable options," said Eric Bruno, vice president/Product Management for Verizon, in a statement. Jerry Kurtze, director of marketing at 4Home, says his company, which was acquired by Motorola Mobility in December 2010, offers a “white label” solution.
"We create a service platform which providers can connect and provide services such as home control, energy management, and security," Kurtze explains. "Our software allows for these or even a custom application. It’s a distributed software platform. We have a piece in the cloud that takes care of communication and storage. It can store different video feeds and communicates with apps."
4Home doesn’t provide any hardware, but it does partner with such hardware vendors as Marvell.
At CES, Verizon said it had partnered with Marvell to create Control Point, a new home-automation portal that combines Marvell’s Wi-Fi technology with Verizon’s LTE network. Control Point is the size of a power plug and can manage home security features, lights, heat and air conditioning and integrate all the connected intelligent furnishings at home using a smartphone.
How It Works
"(Verizon) has a device that sits in the home — sort of the brains of the home," says Kurtze. "We just partner on the hardware side. Our software could go in a Marvell smart plug that would communicate with all the different devices. Home Control can speak with locks, plugs, lights, thermostats, energy management, and monitoring and security-alarm panels that communicate with our server side and connect with apps from cloud."
He continues, "About 25 percent of people in United States have alarm systems. There’s a big move for those people to add capability to view their home. There are a lot of scenarios for cameras to be used. We are working with a bunch of different operators but, because we’re a white label, we can’t say (who they are)."
And there’s more, "If you look at the average consumer, they’re not buying for only one reason. Consumers are sophisticated. Everybody wants custom services and custom devices,” Kurtze notes. “The only way to be profitable is to hit the mainstream. Don’t just offer too small of a niche. We believe that it needs to be a combination of different services."
But Paul Dawes, co-CEO of iControl, another vendor in the home-monitoring and -security space that is targeting broadband service providers, advises operators to focus on security first.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based iControl merged with Austin, Texas-based uControl in November 2010. The combined company, iControl, provides an end-to-end software platform it licenses to any service provider, including cable companies, telcos and to such home-security companies as ADT Security Services.
"We’re focusing on home security as the tip of the spear as far as a go-to-market strategy," says Dawes. "Every one of our partners is going out with home security as the linchpin. Remote monitoring — as a stand-alone feature — is not something customers understand enough yet to cause a buying decision."
According to Dawes, of all the existing home-monitoring-and-control services in the marketplace today, the only service making any real money is home security, which he says is a $9 billion recurring-revenue business in North America alone.
"As you go to market with iPads and cameras and thermostat controls, if it doesn’t tie in with the Honeywell (security system), you can’t extract that $30 a month," he explains. "Every one of the service providers has started with ‘wouldn’t it be easier to just to do remote home monitoring?’ But once they do their market research and talk to their customer base and understand the value proposition, they say ‘we have to do security.’"
Traditionally, security companies like ADT have used existing telephone lines as the communications path, Dawes points out, adding ADT increasingly is using wireless communications with IT. It’s starting to utilize wired broadband as well.
iControl sees a few different models when it comes to installing and maintaining home-security equipment. Some broadband providers intend to partner with traditional home-security companies, while other providers are using iControl to help them train their existing cable installers to add security installations to their skill sets. And yet other operators plan to use a mix of existing installers and third-party contractors.
iControl wasn’t ready to divulge any of its operator clients, but a small Kentucky utility company, Frankfort Plant Board, offered some insights from its foray into the home-monitoring-and-security business.
The municipal electric/water company also serves approximately 17,000 cable customers and has about 1,300 subscribers to its home-security services, which it’s been offering since 2003.
Adam Hellard, broadband security manager for Frankfort Plant Board, says the utility offers a range of products, including security systems, fire-alarm systems, closed-captioned TV and medical-alert services as well as home automation to control lighting, thermostats, gates and other devices.
"We do everything in the house," says Hellard. "We have an installation department that just handles security, with three installers and a supervisor. The security team also handles sales meetings. If a customer wants a real basic system with, say, two doors, a couple of windows and a motion detector, you’re looking at about four hours."
Every system requires a keypad or similar type of control point in the house. Frankfort’s installations run from $350 to $400 for a basic system and then a monthly service fee of $18.95. Or residential customers can opt for a no-money-down, three-year contract of $28.95 per month, which includes the installation.
Rules And Regs
According to Hellard, operators thinking of getting into the security business should realize that it is fairly heavily regulated. "The main thing is to make sure you check your state and local codes and laws," he advises. "Special training is mandated for installers and companies — a lot like electrical licensing."
iControl’s Dawes says, with home security, "we have to build a solution for a much more highly regulated environment than a home-monitoring solution. Underwriter’s Laboratory has a full set of requirements. Each municipality has regulations. We’ve worked with our service-provider partners to navigate those regulatory hurdles. This isn’t a major problem for a service provider as long as they understand that there are rules and regulations."
As far as Verizon’s work with 4Home goes, the trial doesn’t include regulated home-security services. "When you get into security systems, you’re guaranteeing protection," says 4Home’s Kurtze. "Cameras and home monitoring – there’s not an expectation in those cases."
Linda Hardesty is associate editor at Communications Technology. Contact her at email@example.com.