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Home automation: Comcast to add Technicolor touchscreen

Mon, 04/09/2012 - 2:14pm
Mike Robuck

Xfinity HomeWhile Comcast has opened the floodgates on its Xfinity Home service, with plans to have it launched in virtually every system by year’s end, it will also start using a second touchscreen from Technicolor later this year.

The current touchscreen for Xfinity Home is by SMC Networks. The touchscreens are the “brains” of the home automation system that Comcast first rolled out in Houston two years ago. The SMC Networks touchscreen, which has a 7-inch screen, features a menu of widgets that allow access to the latest weather, news, traffic and sports scores. The current touchscreen also has a 24-hour battery, a UL listed siren and a backup cellular module.

While a traditional security system’s brains reside in a metal box somewhere in the home, the wireless touchscreen, which uses Wi-Fi connectivity for the cameras and ZigBee for everything else, is the point of control for Xfinity Home users. Separate from the touchscreen is a key fob that allows Xfinity Home users to arm or disarm the system remotely.

In addition to home automation software from iControl, Comcast is using cameras from Sercomm and lighting modules from Centralite to provision Xfinity Home.

Comcast also recently announced a partnership with EcoFactor, which could open up a new arena of home automation features and services, such as energy modeling to save on heating and cooling and disaggregation, which allows homeowners to see how their systems are performing by item or system.

Mitch Bowling, senior vice president and general manager of new businesses for Comcast Cable, said Comcast is in the design phase right now with EcoFactor, but “we’re working on some other packages.” Since customers’ needs and home floor plans differ, Bowling said Comcast’s goal was to make Xfinity Home as customizable as possible.

The base price for Xfinity Home starts at $39.95 a month plus an installation fee. From there, a la carte options, such as an additional security camera for $5, can be added.

Comcast already added an indoor/outdoor camera with night vision to Xfinity Home, while a carbon monoxide sensor, a water/flood sensor for a basement or washroom, and in-wall lighting switches that can be remotely controlled with Comcast's Xfinity Home app will be coming soon.

Home automation specs
In addition to Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Verizon and AT&T have all deployed some form of home automation services. Aside from service providers, traditional home security vendors, retailers and utilities are also competing for customers’ dollars with their home automation offerings. According to Parks Associates, annual subscription revenues from the various system offerings will be more than $180 million by 2015.

Currently, there are no CableLabs specifications for home automation, but a spokeswoman for CableLabs said it was working with its members on different aspects of the connected home, but CableLabs wasn’t ready to talk about the details of what may be published as specifications or best practice documents.

“Today, everything is pretty self-contained because it’s early on, but to grow the industry, we want to make sure there is an open spec that allows vendors to come in and easily integrate versus custom integration, so we’re working with CableLabs on an open spec,” Bowling said. “The work with CableLabs, that effort is more for the future and how we expand. To get this product out the door, the fastest way to get there was to create a very defined spec early on, and that’s what we did with iControl and our hardware vendors, so that ecosystem exists today.”

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