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The long way home

Sat, 02/28/2009 - 7:35pm
Traci Patterson

Operators have a lot of work to do to enable and manage home networks.

With increasingly intrepid, interactive and networked subscribers experimenting with ways to hook all of their media devices together, aided and abetted by certain consumer electronics vendors, cable operators and other service providers are being forced to consider how to handle home networks.

As much as cable is being compelled to deal with home networking, this "enabler" service may be an opportunity cable providers can't afford to pass up.

In November, a CableLabs specification arrived: PacketCable SMA. Security, monitoring and automation (SMA) services include traditional home security, self-monitoring of home devices and sensors, and remote control of devices in the customer premises. PacketCable SMA vendor focus team participants included 4Home, Arris Interactive, Cisco Systems, iControl Networks, Motorola, uControl and Universal Devices.

There has been a lot of vendor interest in the spec, according to CableLabs executives, although no certification plans are in place as of yet. And according to vendors in the SMA space, there has been a lot of recent operator interest in the market, as well.

Brad Kayton, COO at 4Home, said his company has already deployed with telcos and is currently in trials with cable operators regarding SMA. He added that 4Home is close to making announcements.

Telco SMA services currently up and running include AT&T, with its AT&T Remote Monitor offering, and Telus in Canada, which offers home monitoring services under the brand name Telus HomeSitter. According to Kayton, the telcos he does business with – in the U.S. and abroad – are more interested in self-install home monitoring solutions to avoid extra truck rolls. They want to simply send subscribers a kit in the mail that includes, for example, a controller (a broadband connection provides remote access) and an IP camera, giving users a view of whatever the camera is pointed at via a special website.

As for cable operators, Kayton said that they are more interested in using their broadband pipe to provide ADC-style, professionally installed home security to subscribers – with alarm panels, motion detectors and such. And 4Home and other vendors in the space have some interesting products that ops can choose from, products that fit right in with home networking.

4Home is a member of the Z-Wave Alliance, a consortium of manufacturers that have agreed to build wireless home control products based on the Zensys Z-Wave open standard. And the Z-Wave chips in 4Home's controller boxes can talk to pretty much any device in the home that also has a Z-Wave chip in it, which is how lighting and temperature can be monitored and altered remotely.

So if someone is at work but has one of these "smart homes" powered by 4Home or another SMA vendor (or an operator), if a FedEx package arrives, they can be notified remotely that someone is at the door via their motion detector. They can then see and talk to the FedEx worker through a two-way IP camera, and they can even unlock the door and relock it (new technology, not 4Home's) once the FedEx worker drops the package inside – if they have all of the proper equipment set up.

Greg Gudorf, CEO of Digeo, also a Z-Wave member, said that his company's Moxi HD DVR, which brings photos and music to the DVR and can offer Web-based remote scheduling (such as with a Charter Moxi cable box), blends cable with the Internet.

The Moxi HD DVR, which launched at CES, has been shown running Z-Wave-compatible capabilities to control lighting, access IP cameras and talk to AV products in the home. And this spring, the device will become DLNA-compliant, Gudorf said, with a multi-room announcement to follow later this year.

"Things that seemed like science-fiction not that long ago are now on the horizon of being something we can implement," Gudorf said. "But we have to ask ourselves, ‘What's the right thing to do for the consumer, and when?'"

The consumer approach is TV first: They don't want home monitoring cluttering up their screen, Gudorf added, which is why the Digeo remote does the controlling. And while controlling lighting makes sense when a consumer is on the couch watching TV, not all home controls are appropriate for the TV set. "Convert ideas into something consumers will buy," he said.

But even with all of the cool applications, "the next step will be less about technology and more about who is best at marketing this technology," Kayton said. "Whoever is best at marketing will win.

"Service providers are desperate for new service revenue," Kayton continued. "They have to replace lost revenue, but if they don't do something like home control services, they are in jeopardy of becoming a ‘dumb pipe.'"

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