Cable's Home Automation Initiatives Mature

It's an accepted reality that the cable industry is sitting on a gold mine in home automation, which includes subgroups such as security, energy management, home health care and a variety of other services and applications. The thing about gold mines, however, is that it takes a tremendous amount of work to turn what is in the ground into profits.  

The cable industry continues to set up the infrastructure to dig deeply into these bountiful mines. The latest news came last week from Cox. The MSO unveiled home security and other services for its Virginia systems.  

The company said the service senses for conditions related to intrusions, fire, gas, smoke, carbon monoxide, flood and other dangers. Email and/or text alerts are issued about these conditions. The system also offers video monitoring that can be seen on mobile device or Web browsers and home automation of lights and thermostat.  

On the surface, the announcement isn't terribly different from those that have been previously been announced. However, it is clear that the industry's approach is maturing and growing in sophistication as it moves more fully into this sector.  

The industry has adopted a modular approach via which a great number of services can be added to a set structure, which is a combination of generic protocols atop a purpose-built standard. Jim Johnson, the executive vice president for iControl's converged business unit, said it and other companies worked with CableLabs to create the PacketCable SMA - Security Monitoring and Automation - standard. iControl provides much of the technology used by the cable industry for home automation.  

On top of that standard, he said, a number of common telecommunications standards - such as WiFi, Zigbee and common mobile operating systems - create an infrastructure that can support a list of home automation and security features that essentially is only limited by the imagination of operators and the folks developing third-party applications.

In other words, there are more precious metals to be mined than just gold. And even the gold - home security - is growing in value. It is generally accepted that the penetration of traditional home security systems topped out at 20% penetration. Johnson said studies indicate that about half of the subscribers being added by cable operators are from that 20% - and half are from the pool of people who wouldn’t have considered using traditional home security firms. They are accretive, in other words. "It took the security industry 40 years to get to 20%," Johnson said. "It will take five to eight years to increase the penetration to 40%. It looks like we will be in a growth mode for the foreseeable future."

At the same time, new services - both within the broad category of home security, in discreet areas such as home health care monitoring, home automation and a variety of hybrid services that cut across areas - will continue to appear on the scene.

Time Warner Cable also is active in the home security/automation arena. The MSO announced a partnership with iControl in January 2012 for marketing of its IntelligentHome service in New York, southern California and North Carolina.

Mike Roudi, TWC's senior vice president of corporate development, wrote in response to emailed questions that the remote access elements of the company's services have evolved and that new features have been added. "We expect to continue adding new features and available devices such as water sensors and CO2 detectors," he wrote. "We are also excited by the advancement in IP video cameras that make them smaller and more affordable, with great functionality."

For Johnson, the past year has seen the industry get the basic infrastructure elements deployed. The focus is gradually shifting to the sales side. He said selling such services is new to cable operators and that it can entail multiple calls and home visits. "Building that sales infrastructure is the biggest change for the industry," Johnson said.

Johnson is clear on the order in which services will be added: "It definitely starts with home security. Certainly home automation and home control will be bundled with that. The next thing the industry will roll out will be things around energy management in partnership with utility companies. After that will be home healthcare, sometimes by the healthcare companies themselves and sometimes by the cable guys."

It is quite a list. The great news for the cable industry is that none of these services and applications requires reinventing the wheel. The industry has a gold mine in home security, but can find silver and other precious metals at the same time.

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of  Broadband Technology Report. Reach him at

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