Xfinity Reveals Pricing, Rollout for Security and Home Automation

Comcast/Xfinity Home Security costs $45 per month for alarm monitoring, cellular communications, up to five WiFi cameras, ZigBee lights and thermostat, remote monitoring and control.

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Monthly pricing for Xfinity Home Security remote home management system seems cheaper than competitors’, but sensors and home automation components are quite limited and generally more expensive.

By Julie Jacobson
June 08, 2011
Today we learn a few things about Xfinity Home Security that we hadn't reported before: The monthly cost for the security/home automation service is cheaper than most, but hardly free; six more cities will get the service after last year's launch in Houston; and Xfinity will do its own security installations, rather than use a third-party provider.

And one more thing: Xfinity will use iControl SMA, the home-control platform formerly known as uControl. Just as we suspected.

Neither Xfinity nor iControl has made a formal announcement about the iControl deal, but Xfinity spokesperson Charlie Douglas confirmed the news in an interview with CE Pro today.

As previously reported, the new Xfinity Home Security service features a monitored alarm system, video cameras, and connected lights and thermostats -- all of which can be monitored and controlled remotely via any Web browser or a smart phone.

The service was launched in Houston late in 2010, and Xfinity announced today that the program would be extended to “several U.S. market areas including parts of Philadelphia, Portland (Ore.), Jacksonville (Fla.), Sarasota/Naples (Fla.), Chattanooga (Tenn.) and Nashville (Tenn.).”

That bit about the new cities is the only interesting point in an Xfinity press release issued today, but we did learn some useful things from Douglas, including the price of the new service and how the security system is installed.

Most importantly, industry watchers worried that Comcast would undercut the established security and home automation industry with rock-bottom pricing. That is not the case. The $45 upper limit on Xfinity's monthly service may be on the low end, but the relatively high price of its ZigBee hardware may negate any savings (see pricing, p. 2).

The Security & Automation System


If you have been reading CE Pro, you already know this: When Xfinity Home Security launched in Houston, it went to market with a system from iControl -- the same platform that powers ADT Pulse and more recently DSC’s Connect24.

But iControl employs Z-Wave wireless technology for home automation, and cable companies apparently prefer the more robust ZigBee RF protocol. So iControl acquired a ZigBee-friendly competitor uControl in an effort to win the Comcast business (it worked).

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HOW THE XFINITY HOME SECURITY SYSTEM WORKS
Check out CE Pro's exclusive illustration of the Xfinity Home Security and Automation ecosystem powered by iControl SMA. Is ZigBee the right choice for a low-cost security system? (Click here for story - CE Pro Plus subscription required)
Houston customers will be grandfathered in at some point, says Douglas, “and there will be some customers there who stay with iControl, but the uControl equipment will be what’s used going forward and in other markets.”

Unlike the original iControl ecosystem used in Houston, the iControl SMA system is self-contained: A single touchscreen includes the user interface (obviously), wireless ZigBee technology for both security and automation functions, and WiFi for cameras and Internet connectivity. It also has a built-in cellular radio for communicating with a central monitoring station, and a back-up battery as required by UL for a security system.

There is no secondary security system; the iControl SMA touchscreen is the security system. ZigBee-enabled smoke detectors, door/window contacts and motion sensors communicate directly with the touchscreen.

Likewise, ZigBee-enabled lighting modules and thermostats connect directly with the touchscreen.

Currently, Xfinity is not offering in-wall light switches because an electrician is required, but Douglas says the company is working with Centralite on ZigBee lighting. The cable company will roll out a solution in the future: “It is something we would sell them and they would hire an electrician to install,” Douglas says.

Because the entire control system resides in a single box, it is so simple to install … even cable guys can install it. And they will.

Security Installation and Licensing


What has inhibited national service providers in the past is that every state, and sometimes local municipality, has its own set of security licensing laws – some (like Illinois) are vastly more onerous than others.

Even so, Comcast is going it alone, using its own techs to install the security and automation systems.

“Because this service is really adjacent to the expertise that we have as a broadband company,” says Douglas, “our installers who typically do voice, video and data are being trained in local markets.”

Each installer, he says, is licensed according to local codes, which is one reason “why we’re taking it market by market.”

In some cases, licensed installers are recruited to Xfinity for the Home Security cause, but the company is not using third-party dealers.

One thing Comcast isn’t doing is building out a central station. Instead, the company is using COPS, a large security monitoring firm.

Next page: pricing

Pricing for Xfinity Home Security


Xfinity charges less per month than its big competitors nationwide, including ADT Pulse ($58/month), and independents that sell solutions based on Alarm.com and Honeywell Total Connect.

But Xfinity security and automation components are generally more expensive (and sparse) because they utilize ZigBee, rather than the more prolific Z-Wave or even more prolific security sensor protocols.

Here is a breakdown of the Xfinity Home Security packages (rounded to the nearest penny), as provided to CE Pro by Xfinity's Charlie Douglas:

Monthly Fees (with three-year contract)
Basic - $30/month
Basic security system with security sensors and cellular communications

Preferred - $40/month
Security, including cellular, plus basic automation including lighting and thermostat control; remote monitoring and control via Web browser or smart phone, as well as email and text alerts.

Preferred with Video - $45/month
Preferred system plus support for up to five IP surveillance cameras.

Installation
Currently Xfinity is running an introductory offer on its Preferred package for $199. That includes:
  • Touchscreen controller (1)
  • Door/window sensors (4)
  • Motion detector (1)
  • Keyfob (1)
  • Wireless keypad (1)
Additional wireless devices (installed)
  • Motion sensor (ZigBee) - $150
  • Door/window sensor (ZigBee) - $70
  • Thermostat (ZigBee) - $150
  • Smoke detector (ZigBee) - $150
  • Lighting/appliance module (ZigBee) - $90
  • Video camera (WiFi) - $150 (or two for $199 during promotional period)

Can Xfinity Sell This Stuff?


Since regional utilities sold security in the late 1980s/early 1990s, no national service provider (voice, video, data, utility) has had much success selling it. Currently in the U.S., Verizon is trying it with Motorola's 4Home, Time Warner Cable is trying it, AT&T might try it with Xanboo, and utilities are staying away from it to focus on energy management.

It appears Comcast has an edge over its immediate competitors– not least because Comcast actually has a plan – because it has such an enormous reach for both cable and Internet. Not that existing customers will look at bill stuffers that beckon, “Your one-stop shop for voice, video, data, security, thermostats and lights that go dim in the night.”
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RELATED: Will Verizon Win the Home Automation Wars?
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But Comcast certainly has a large, captive audience among movers.

“They call the power, water and cable companies,” Douglas says. “So we think that just by being one person ahead in line, that gives us the opportunity to knock. If they are accustomed to the [security] service already, it could take only one call.”

Throughout its territories, Comcast has specially designated centers that “help people move,” Douglas says.

Already, new movers get special welcoming kits, and now they’ll get a little extra nudge to buy a security and automation system with their cable and Internet.

“That type of opportunity is one of the best ones we’re focused on now,” Douglas says.

Strangely enough, Xfinity is not offering discounts for bundling Home Security with cable and Internet, "but that could be something we look at in the future," Douglas says.

Likewise, Xfinity will leave to the future any integration between the security system and Xfinity cable and Internet service. Unlike Verizon's service (using Motorola 4Home), Xfinity is not offering a TV-based user interface, nor the opportunity to view video cameras through the television.

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