Exclusive: How Comcast Will Use Icontrol to Dominate Security, Home Automation Market – CEPro
Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is now the proud owner of one part of Icontrol (Converge), the security and home automation pioneer. The other part (Connect) went to Icontrolâ€™s one-time nemesis Alarm.com (Nasdaq: ALRM). The deals closed on March 8.
Icontrol had provided the SHaaS (smart home as a service) for Comcastâ€™s Xfinity Home solution since 2011. Now that Comcast owns it, the cable giant can chart its own smart-home course.
CE Pro caught up with Dan Herscovici, SVP and general manager Xfinity Home, to learn more about Comcastâ€™s plans for the Icontrol unit.
How Comcast can expand upon Icontrol
Despite Icontrolâ€™s spectacular success â€“ some 2.5 million to 3 million customers use the platform â€“ the company was still a smallish start-up with venture capitalists to please.
Comcast, on the other hand, â€œcomes at it from a different angle, with a longer horizon,â€ Herscovici says. â€œWe are committed to investing in the platform and growing it.â€
IoT Center of Excellence in Austin, Texas
Austin, the birthplace of Icontrolâ€™s Converge platform, is a big winner in the Comcast/Icontrol deal. Comcast will establish an IoT Center of Excellence there, a hip town with a lot of talented grads from the University of Texas.
â€œWe think the University of Texas and the surrounding area will attract a lot of talent,â€ Herscovici says.
Selling the platform to others
Comcast isnâ€™t keeping Icontrol to itself. The company plans to â€œevolve it into something MSOs [cable companies] would be interested in.â€
Herscovici explains that Comcast will package its Xfinity Home solution â€“ from the technology to the business elements â€“ for use by other MSOs, telcos and even possibly independent security dealers in the U.S. and abroad.
Becoming a direct competitor to Alarm.com
I had assumed wrongly that Comcast would wholesale its services only to institutional providers such as MSOs and telcos.
I figured there would be a non-compete with Alarm.com, stipulating that Comcast wouldnâ€™t go after independent dealers.
I was wrong.
â€œThereâ€™s no reason we couldnâ€™t compete against Alarm.com,â€ Herscovici says. â€œThere are no non-competes with Alarm.com on going after independent dealers. We were frenemies during the negotiations.â€
Interestingly, Icontrol tried to launch its own business for independent dealers, called Icontrol One, but it never got off the ground. Perhaps Comcast can succeed where Icontrol couldnâ€™t, especially if it offers a complete package for a home-tech business (like a franchise), not just a SHaaS back-end.
The fact that Comcast can compete with Alarm.com is probably one reason why Honeywellâ€™s antitrust lawsuit (against Icontrol and Alarm.com) failed.
Surprisingly, the DIY market is just not a big priority for Comcast. The company will continue to promote professionally installed and monitored security and automation solutions like Xfinity Home.
“DIY is small today, and I donâ€™t see it growing in a dramatic fashion,â€ Herscovici says.
Having said that, there is â€œnothing structural or technical that would keep us from entering that market.â€
In the shorter term, he can imagine a pro-installed system that might be supplemented later on by consumers adding certain devices like security sensors to the ecosystem, “as long as we know they already have a strong network.”
â€œBut to do a complete system DIY,â€ he says, â€œis kind of a niche market.â€
Comcast TV platform and voice control
Obviously Comcast has a pretty strong TV business. So then, â€œhow do you make interactions with the home system more seamless on the TV?â€ Herscovici wonders.
Currently, users must open an app on their TV to use the display as a user interface. Herscovici imagines a time in the very near future that users could get â€œone-click access to the thermostatâ€ and other smart systems.
With Comcastâ€™s robust X1 TV platform, the â€œuser experience overall is evolving,â€ Herscovici says. â€œWe could be more deeply integrated there.â€
On top of that, Comcast thinks its voice remote could be a boon for its home-automation business.
â€œOne thing many people donâ€™t appreciate is that we have tens of millions of voice remotes deployed, with billions of voice utterances through those remotes.â€
â€œOne thing many people donâ€™t appreciate,â€ says Herscovici, â€œis that we have tens of millions of voice remotes deployed, with billions of voice utterances through those remotes.â€
Even though most of those utterances are for video search and discovery, â€œweâ€™ve learned a lot about what works and doesnâ€™t work with voice,â€ Herscovici says.
The voice remote today works with Xfinity Home security and automation, but only in a limited way.
Asking Xfinity to arm the security system, for example, takes the user to the right place in the app (much like searching for a movie), but it doesnâ€™t close the deal.
â€œOver time â€“ in months, not years â€“ those utterances will directly control the house.â€
Going a step further, with speaker-dependent technology, â€œImagine where voice is the password,â€ says Herscovici. â€œYou could use it to disarm the system.â€
He calls Comcastâ€™s â€œdeep experience in voiceâ€ a compelling benefit for home-automation, even considering popular alternatives such as Alexa and Google Home.
â€œThe power of our voice solutions versus others is that we have this giant screen,â€ he says.
Rather than having to remember a spoken list of options, users can view their options on a big screen.
Roadmap unveiled at ISC, April 6
More will be revealed during the International Security Conference (ISC West) in Las Vegas. Comcast is hosting a two-hour session on April 6, 10am to noon, where the company will explain its new wholesale service and what it means for the security and home-automation industry.
Watch this space for more details.
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