Microsoft, Comcast - and Others - Make Themselves at Home

Carl Weinschenk

The concept is simple: The best approach to home automation is to perceive the domicile as one big PC, with each function - security, entertainment, heating/cooling, etc. - being treated as a periphery.

That is how Microsoft looks at the lucrative world of home automation in a recently released white paper, according to NewsFactor. The story says that test homes have been running in 12 homes for four to eight months and describes the company's vision:

The key aspects of the platform are a device-agnostic kernel, and protocol-independent services that allow developers to address simple abstractions in order to access devices, rather than the devices themselves. HomeOS supports several existing device protocols, such as Z-Wave and DLNA.

At the highest level, it seems to make sense for true home automation to be coming into focus. The last few years have been dominated by a single networking protocol - the Internet Protocol - and wired and wireless technology that can reach every nook and cranny of a house for a reasonable amount of money. Unifying the home on one keypad or smartphone/tablet app is an elegant approach that seems attainable and will generate benefits on many levels - revenue for service providers, savings and extended functionality for consumers and green operations for Mother Earth.

 

Microsoft, of course, is not the only company interested in home automation. The cable television industry sees a tremendous opportunity. Operators such as Rogers and Time Warner Cable are exploring the concept. But the operator that is farthest down the road is Comcast. Its Xfinity service started a couple of years ago as a security initiative. It has broadened to offer energy management and home control, according Mitch Bowling, Comcast's senior vice president and general manager for new businesses. Bowling, who was quoted in CED magazine by Mike Robuck, discussed the evolution:

"What we found was there were at least two reasons not to move forward then," Bowling said. "One, the technology wasn't ready for something that we could put together in a comprehensive package at the right price point. With a lot of technology, time and price point have to work together. The second thing was we weren't quite sure that consumers were ready for smart home, and it turns out they weren't. We've done a lot of research from 2010 to now, and their understanding of smart home has changed considerably just in that time frame.["]

The Chicago Sun Times reported last month that Xfinity Home is launching in the Windy City, though the story focused on the security aspects of the service.

 

Light Reading reports on an analysis by Sanford Bernstein on the relationship between the established home security sector and the nascent invasion by telecommunications service providers. The bottom line, according to that analysis, is that the newbies will get their fair share of the pie, but it won't be an overwhelming business. The interesting possibility of Comcast buying ADT is raised. The home security industry hovers around 20 percent of households. Security as a module in a broader home automation platform, however, may enable it to break through.



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