This year has brought a number of big announcements, with Verizon, Comcast, ADT, and others declaring their official entry into the home automation business. Their presence is an endorsement of the readiness of wireless technologies for mass deployment, and may also benefit the industry at large.
To start with, big companies like Verizon or Comcast are successful not because they provide customized services, but because they are so good at repeating a familiar procedure. When it comes to home control, a key part of this equation are the popular wireless standards Zigbee and Z-Wave, which the national providers have built their offerings around.
If the technology was too complicated, it would inevitably hinder scalability. Though installations will probably be performed by trained technicians, they normally fall into one of two categories: (1) a nationally branded team (like the Geek Squad, for example) or (2.) licensed third parties.
In the case of the former, the obvious setback would be training an entire workforce in a completely new set of skills (or hiring enough additional workers to supplement the current workforce). With the latter, the liability of contracting out complicated jobs to third parties isn’t very likely something that would interest companies like Comcast or Verizon.
So, again, it’s the simplicity and reliability of wireless standards that enable them to even think about offering home control solutions on this scale. Where in the past this type of retrofit was expensive and complicated, wireless devices have made it little more complex than a routine cable box configuration and an affordable one at that.
What does this mean for the future of home automation?
Even with big names involved, the outlook for smaller players may still be a positive one.
For one thing, large companies can leverage their extensive customer base to bring wireless gateways into subscribers’ homes. At that point, with Z-Wave anyway, additional products are easily added. Those hardware components can come from multiple sources, not only from the service provider.
In some cases, providers are uninterested in doing much more than opening up the potential for home control by installing a gateway, as is the case with Verizon. Take the following excerpt from a CE Pro article that ran back in January:
At roll-out, all integrated devices must be purchased from Verizon, including Wi-Fi cameras and Z-Wave devices.
“We don’t want to get into the hardware business, but we want a good consumer experience,” says Verizon product manager John Gravel.
His colleague Hassane Bouhia, group manager for Verizon Broadband Solutions, adds, “Eventually, there’s no reason you couldn’t pick up Z-Wave devices at retail.”
The natural aversion many people have to undertaking the installation of those additional devices may also present a business opportunity for those who specialize in this area.
If nothing else, the investment these brands are making in both the technology and concept of home control may prove beneficial for others in the industry. One notable example along these lines is the overwhelming, yet counterintuitive, support Starbucks enjoys among local coffeehouses. Essentially, they say, the big brand is great at marketing the culture of coffee, and that they are first in line to reap the benefits of increased sales.