Exclusive: How Comcast Will Use Icontrol to Dominate Security, Home Automation Market
Comcast’s Dan Herscovici on the acquisition of Icontrol: new smart-home roadmap, a wholesale offering to other providers, thoughts on DIY, integration with TV and voice controls, IoT center in Austin, TX ... and more.
Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is now the proud owner of one part of Icontrol (Converge), the security and home automation pioneer. The other part (Connect) went to Icontrol’s one-time nemesis Alarm.com (Nasdaq: ALRM). The deals closed on March 8.
Icontrol had provided the SHaaS (smart home as a service) for Comcast’s Xfinity Home solution since 2011. Now that Comcast owns it, the cable giant can chart its own smart-home course.
CE Pro caught up with Dan Herscovici, SVP and general manager Xfinity Home, to learn more about Comcast’s plans for the Icontrol unit.
How Comcast can expand upon Icontrol
Despite Icontrol’s spectacular success – some 2.5 million to 3 million customers use the platform – the company was still a smallish start-up with venture capitalists to please.
Comcast, on the other hand, “comes at it from a different angle, with a longer horizon,” Herscovici says. “We are committed to investing in the platform and growing it.”
IoT Center of Excellence in Austin, Texas
Austin, the birthplace of Icontrol’s Converge platform, is a big winner in the Comcast/Icontrol deal. Comcast will establish an IoT Center of Excellence there, a hip town with a lot of talented grads from the University of Texas.
“We think the University of Texas and the surrounding area will attract a lot of talent,” Herscovici says.
Selling the platform to others
Comcast isn’t keeping Icontrol to itself. The company plans to “evolve it into something MSOs [cable companies] would be interested in.”
Herscovici explains that Comcast will package its Xfinity Home solution – from the technology to the business elements – for use by other MSOs, telcos and even possibly independent security dealers in the U.S. and abroad.
Becoming a direct competitor to Alarm.com
I had assumed wrongly that Comcast would wholesale its services only to institutional providers such as MSOs and telcos.
I figured there would be a non-compete with Alarm.com, stipulating that Comcast wouldn’t go after independent dealers.
I was wrong.
“There’s no reason we couldn’t compete against Alarm.com,” Herscovici says. “There are no non-competes with Alarm.com on going after independent dealers. We were frenemies during the negotiations.”
Interestingly, Icontrol tried to launch its own business for independent dealers, called Icontrol One, but it never got off the ground. Perhaps Comcast can succeed where Icontrol couldn’t, especially if it offers a complete package for a home-tech business (like a franchise), not just a SHaaS back-end.
The fact that Comcast can compete with Alarm.com is probably one reason why Honeywell’s antitrust lawsuit (against Icontrol and Alarm.com) failed.
Surprisingly, the DIY market is just not a big priority for Comcast. The company will continue to promote professionally installed and monitored security and automation solutions like Xfinity Home.
"DIY is small today, and I don’t see it growing in a dramatic fashion,” Herscovici says.
Having said that, there is “nothing structural or technical that would keep us from entering that market.”
In the shorter term, he can imagine a pro-installed system that might be supplemented later on by consumers adding certain devices like security sensors to the ecosystem, "as long as we know they already have a strong network."
“But to do a complete system DIY,” he says, “is kind of a niche market.”
Comcast TV platform and voice control
Obviously Comcast has a pretty strong TV business. So then, “how do you make interactions with the home system more seamless on the TV?” Herscovici wonders.
Currently, users must open an app on their TV to use the display as a user interface. Herscovici imagines a time in the very near future that users could get “one-click access to the thermostat” and other smart systems.
With Comcast’s robust X1 TV platform, the “user experience overall is evolving,” Herscovici says. “We could be more deeply integrated there.”
On top of that, Comcast thinks its voice remote could be a boon for its home-automation business.
“One thing many people don’t appreciate is that we have tens of millions of voice remotes deployed, with billions of voice utterances through those remotes.”
“One thing many people don’t appreciate,” says Herscovici, “is that we have tens of millions of voice remotes deployed, with billions of voice utterances through those remotes.”
Even though most of those utterances are for video search and discovery, “we’ve learned a lot about what works and doesn’t work with voice,” Herscovici says.
The voice remote today works with Xfinity Home security and automation, but only in a limited way.
Asking Xfinity to arm the security system, for example, takes the user to the right place in the app (much like searching for a movie), but it doesn’t close the deal.
“Over time – in months, not years – those utterances will directly control the house.”
Going a step further, with speaker-dependent technology, “Imagine where voice is the password,” says Herscovici. “You could use it to disarm the system.”
He calls Comcast’s “deep experience in voice” a compelling benefit for home-automation, even considering popular alternatives such as Alexa and Google Home.
“The power of our voice solutions versus others is that we have this giant screen,” he says.
Rather than having to remember a spoken list of options, users can view their options on a big screen.
Roadmap unveiled at ISC, April 6
More will be revealed during the International Security Conference (ISC West) in Las Vegas. Comcast is hosting a two-hour session on April 6, 10am to noon, where the company will explain its new wholesale service and what it means for the security and home-automation industry.
Watch this space for more details.
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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