Mobility and convenience are now the hot elements in bundled home area network services. At the heart of things are smartphones for a growing number of homeowners. Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless voice and 3G data network provider, is getting into home security and home energy monitoring. Photo Courtesy of Verizon Wireless

Last month’s merger of iControl and uControl highlights a number of trends that impacts electronic system contractors: the evolution of home area networks (HAN) from luxury to mass market appeal and the commonsense connection of monitored home security and home energy management. In addition, AT&T and Motorola, two of the most recognized consumer brands, have recently acquired “connected home” technology firms. The future of all these services — beyond the diverse hardware and software — is in the cloud. Once again the Internet rules.

Cloud platforms from firms such as iControl Networks, Xanboo, 4Home, Intamac and others aim at a growing number of providers boasting affordable and accessible HAN services. In addition to ADT Security Service’s Pulse, with its interactive home control service, Comcast/Xfinity, AT&T, Time Warner and soon-to-be Verizon are in the home monitoring game. It is expected that other cable and wireless communications service providers will also join the battle as will some electric utilities as the latter unveil smart grid applications for homeowners.

Which is the reason that the merger of “i and u” makes business sense.

The move combines the two into a more fully formed solution that includes interactive home security, energy management and home healthcare to broadband service providers, home security companies and utilities, according to co-chief executive officer (CEO) Paul Dawes, who works in iControl’s Palo Alto, Calif., office. The firm’s technology is at the heart of ADT Pulse and inside the Xfinity rollout in Houston, although Dawes would not confirm the latter relationship as yet. "Through this merger, iControl and uControl have combined our respective strengths to deliver the best platform for the broadband home management market," comments Dawes, who adds, "No matter if it's support for IP video monitoring, iPhone and Android apps, or ZigBee and Z-Wave technology."

No doubt, emphasis is on the so-called connected lifestyle, or what the merged company calls its open, technology-agnostic home security, monitoring and automation software platform. In fact, the company created OpenSMA, an alliance of providers of products and services with — so far — just a handful of members.

iControl Networks, however, is not light on investors. These include ADT, Charles River Ventures, Cisco, Comcast Interactive Capital, GE Security, Intel Capital and the Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers iFund, which is Apple centric and built upon the growing applications for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Web technology for home and mobile applications is indeed developing rapidly, adds Kevin Meagher, chief executive officer of Intamac Systems, an iControl competitor. In a recent blog, he states: “Powerful, cloud-based platform services are available, employing open standards to offer simple APIs that allow providers to quickly and easily develop and deliver a range of interactive ‘home monitoring’ services to their customers. The consumer interface is now through a website or smartphone, and can be branded and integrated within existing service offerings to give consumers a seamless experience and to stretch brand recognition and reach.”

When is a blue home green? When it comes with home energy management, often bundled with security. Photo courtesy PRNewsFoto/Blu Homes, D Randolph Foulds


Many folks including Dawes and Meagher feel that, with home security monitoring in a stall, now is the time to broaden home service offerings to include energy management. The reason is simple. Almost every home has electricity; federal spending is spurring installation of smart meters in homes with an ability to talk to and from the local utility; and, with the increasing cost of energy per kilowatt hour, homeowners will sooner than later see value in knowing and adjusting their energy use.

So, not surprisingly, more than a year ago, iControl Networks launched what it calls its ConnectedLife energy management solution. Additionally, it allows utilities to implement demand response and energy efficiency services to control peak energy use, optimize existing infrastructure and minimize future investment. With it, consumers can monitor, control and automate their own energy use, and maximize efficiency to meet their monthly expenditure and "green home" carbon footprint goals.

Home security companies and electronic system contractors can offer or install such technology as a standalone service or layered with interactive home security offerings to complete the broadband home management platform. Features include:

• Monitored energy use in real-time to track and compare daily, weekly and monthly trends to pre-set energy usage goals.
• Remote management and control of devices such as thermostats from the Web, iPhone or other mobile phone.
• Automation of home tools — using smart thermostat configurations to minimize use of high-energy consuming devices such as heating or AC units.
• Cost savings: The average energy bill can be reduced by a minimum of $10 to $20 per month.

At the heart of the iControl technology is “a nice, all-in-one touch screen-based wireless security system. It’s a simple-to-install solution. It integrates with existing security systems very well, has video technology and camera technology and great touch screen technology, too,” says Dawes. “It is a new value proposition combining traditional security monitoring with the ability to stay connected” to the home, thanks to the technology’s “mobility and convenience.”

Dawes also points out that home security is moving rapidly from a telephony-based to a broadband-based service anyway. “And with broadband, there is a greater ability to bundle home services,” he adds. Concerning traditional home security businesses, the iControl executive believes putting broadband muscle into a more connected home area network lifts all the boats. “We are growing the market bigger more than pulling market share away from others,” he contends.

The merger of iControl and uControl into iControl Networks, some observers contend, was encouraged by the recent introduction of Comcast Xfinity into the home security and energy monitoring arena, first in Houston. Photo Courtesy of PRNewsFoto


Still, programs such as iControl’s OpenSMA can draw some attention. The first partners in OpenSMA include Centralite, Comporium, Ember, Massillion, NewWave Communications, SMC Networks and The Weather Channel. OpenSMA is broadly divided into vertical segments with some members falling into multiple categories including: service providers (broadband or Internet), platform hardware, lifestyle devices, apps and infrastructure.

Other big brands are buying into the smart home concept, often through the home energy management angle. AT&T has recently acquired Xanboo, a platform developer of remote home management, one week after Motorola bought 4Home. AT&T has a long ago relationship with Xanboo. Back in 2006, it marketed the Xanboo remote monitoring system, a basic kit for monitoring cameras and security sensors which sold for $199 with a $9.95 monthly fee. Then in 2009, Xanboo, in conjunction with AT&T, rolled out a dealer program.

Motorola Mobility’s purchase of 4Home also has an interesting back story.

4Home, with its software and service “connected home” platform, interfaces with mobile phones, Web browsers, tablets, and TVs. Examples of services include energy management, home control, home monitoring, home security and home health. Verizon, expected to introduce its own home monitoring service plan, has been a long-time investor in 4Home. Ironically, Motorola was an investor in Xanboo, too.

“At Motorola Mobility, we continue to invest in our converged experiences portfolio, and 4Home provides a wealth of services and software applications that offer consumers control and information for their digital lives,” says Dan Moloney, president, Motorola Mobility. “The addition of the 4Home portfolio helps expand our vision of converged experiences in the home and beyond.”

Time will tell how far “beyond” really is. In the meantime, Leon Hounshell, president and CEO of 4Home emphasizes the potential of the platform.

“As part of Motorola Mobility, the 4Home team will continue to increase the adoption of our connected home services platform by tapping into new business segments, such as cable, as well as adding significant resources to support our current customers and partners,” Hounshell says.