Motorola Buys Premise, Ponders Mass Market for IP-Based Control
What do a cell phone, a cable box and a home-automation system have in common? Answer: A lot, if Motorola has anything to do with it.
The broadband and communications giant recently acquired the Premise Systems group from Lantronix, the device-networking company that bought Premise two years ago. Motorola -- specifically the broadband consumer division -- likely will incorporate Premise's home- control software in its set-top boxes, enabling consumers to monitor and control their homes remotely, say, via a Motorola cell phone.
Founded in 1999, Premise Systems created perhaps the first robust home-control system based on Internet-working standards. The company's Web-based SYS software incorporated Premise's own automation applications, as well as drivers to support third-party subsystems such as lighting control and security. With the help of Lantronix's serial- to-IP adapters, Premise was the first company to effectively bridge the gap between the Internet and serial-communicating control systems.
But it costs a lot of money to be a pioneer, and Premise made huge investments in software development, including the creation of scores of drivers for integrating third-party subsystems. For that reason, among others, the company's full-featured software has remained a high-end proposition (roughly $1,000 for the software only) -- too much for the mass market to swallow. The newer Premise Home Control Personal Edition ( $200), while more affordable, has found little traction at retail.
"Our plan from day one has been to try to push the bar down where automation is acceptable to the mass market," says Premise founder Dan Quigley. "To do that, you need more than just software. You have to have a product that consumers can buy that's self -contained."
Perhaps a Motorola cable modem or set-top box with Premise software inside will fill that gap some day. In the near term, however, Motorola is most likely to use Premise software for its new HM1000, a stand-alone system that provides basic networking, security and energy-management functions.
Following that, according to Motorola spokesperson Paul Alfieri, a version of Premise software could be created for Motorola's MS1000, the gateway currently being used for Shell's HomeGenie control system. He suggests that cable operators could bundle the software with the gateway to create new revenue opportunities. Shell, for example, charges $24.95 per month for its service.
Premise veteran Mike Wimberly tells of a recent demonstration that portends other possibilities for Motorola: "From a cell phone, we were notified that a glass-break sensor was triggered," he says. "It gave us four options, right on the cell phone: View image, call 911, call home, or disarm the security system."
The technology is nothing new for the home systems industry, but its adoption by one of the world's most ubiquitous cable and cell phone suppliers could represent a giant leap for home automation. Chances are, future versions of these products will incorporate some piece of Premise software, although the set-top route is a long way off, according to Alfieri.
Wimberly expects the first automation applications to find their way into Motorola products will be SMS [Short Message Service] alerts that notify cell phone users of conditions at the house. Ultimately, the digital cameras built into most cell phones could be used as "little video doorbells," suggests Wimberly.
Premise is not giving up the high end of the automation market, however. "We'll maintain the dealer edition and reduce the cost quite a bit -- almost in half," says Wimberly, who assumes the role of senior manager, product marketing, for Motorola Broadband.
In addition to the Premise product, Wimberly will be working on Motorola's existing home-automation product, the HM1000. Based on technology from Xanboo, the system comprises a control hub, wireless/hardwired cameras, and a variety of wireless devices including sensors, switches and a thermostat.
As for the Premise offering, it could go either way, according to Jim Panacek, product manager for Motorola consumer solutions. "Motorola has relationships with both cable operators and retailers," he says, "and we're looking to explore the opportunities that both channels offer for making home control technology available to consumers."