Abode is Most Promising Security, Home Automation Solution in a Long Time
Backed by former ADT president Mike Snyder, Abode is UL-compliant security system with pay-as-you-go monitoring; gateway features ZigBee, Z-Wave, IP for home automation; platform ideal for both DIYs and pros.
Julie Jacobson · August 4, 2015
Abode is a new security and home automation system that offers the most promising technological and business platform I’ve seen in a very long time. It is more than the classic “home automation hub” with ZigBee, Z-Wave and additional smart-home protocols. It is also a complete UL-certified security system with a pay-as-you-go professional monitoring option. And it has a perfect blend of both DIY and professional sensibilities.
Founded by former ADT executive Christopher Carney and Salesforce.com veteran Brent Franks, Abode is backed by former ADT president Mike Snyder and Hotmail founder Jack Smith.
Abode is currently in beta testing and is expected to fulfill orders soon for its March Kickstarter backers. Systems for the general public will ship later this year. So this isn’t one of those Kickstarter campaigns that will lead to naught. I’ve been to Abode’s office in Palo Alto, Calif., and the company is the real deal. It’s also quite special.
Why? For the past several years, we’ve noted some of the hottest trends in security and home automation, and Abode fits the bill on every one:
- Growing DIY and enthusiast market – systems that allow more user configuration and engagement
- Importance of the professional installation channel – Compare the relative success of ADT Pulse, AT&T Digital Life and Comcast Xfinity Home to DIY home automation hubs from Wink, Staples Connect and Revolv, for example.
- Security driving the home automation category
- Professional security monitoring becoming increasingly necessary because of police non-response without verified alarms (more links below)
- Flexible pay-as-you-go security plans
- Pro-configured systems for DIY self-installation (like FrontPoint and Protect America)
Home Automation Hub that Starts with Security
The Abode system begins with a gateway that communicates primarily through a wired Ethernet connection but includes a cellular radio as a back-up alarm transport. Although it’s elegant enough to place on a living-room shelf, the unit would most likely sit in a closet next to the home router.
The gateway includes ZigBee and Z-Wave radios for automation, as well as a 433 MHz radio for secure, power-optimized communications with traditional security sensors.
Abode says its 433 transmitters utilize a “unique device antenna design” that extends signal range to over one mile and a proprietary encryption scheme that thwarts attempts to decode or steal signals between the sensors to the gateway.
The gateway also has a built-in siren.
Below, we get to the home automation features of Abode, but the product and the company has “security at its core,” says Carney, so we’ll start with that.
Video: Abode Security & Home Automation System
Even Abode’s industrial design, with its stark black-and-white theme, evokes the police and suggests a system that is “super-secure,” Carney notes.
In addition to the gateway, two camera types are integral to the ecosystem. One is a battery-operated “motion camera” built into a ZigBee-enabled PIR motion sensor. When motion is detected, the device captures images and delivers them via ZigBee to the gateway, which in turn sends the pictures to the homeowners or professional monitoring station per the users’ specifications. The device can last around four years with only two AA batteries, which are easily replaced, thanks to a clever magnetic mounting mechanism.
In addition, Abode offers a full-featured IP camera (Wi-Fi) with live streaming to the users’ smartphones and computers. Both local and cloud storage is available.
Here’s the really big deal: Video and snapshots from the cameras are relayed to the security monitoring station for alarm verification. This is a major missing element in today’s DIY-friendly security systems and requires a special relationship between the product manufacturer and the central station.
The reason video verification is so crucial is that police departments throughout the U.S., in addressing false-alarm rates of up to 99%, are severely restricting their response to residential alarms. In some instances, they will not respond unless there is an eye witness or live video attesting to a legitimate emergency.
As self-monitored “security” systems spread, police departments will continue to place further restrictions on alarm dispatch. Abode scores big points on this feature.
Abode also gets points for its pay-as-you-go security monitoring program—a model that is finding favor by some new DIY products like the SwannOne from CCTV giant Swann.. Users need not commit to annual plans costing $30 per month or more. Instead, they can start and stop professional monitoring with a couple of clicks on an app – at any time.
Furthermore, Abode offers a variety of automated triggers to prompt users to activate monitoring. Using geo-location, the system can determine if everyone is far away from home, and then text the homeowners, “Are you traveling? Do you want to activate monitoring?”
If yes, the system will offer default settings of three days, seven days or 30 days, each with its own price point.
Finally, on the security side, here’s the one big thing that sets Abode apart from DIY-oriented competitors: It is UL-certified for security. That means it has a 12- to 16-hour back-up battery built in, and meets other requirements that most reputable security dealers demand.
On that note, I am baffled by ADT’s announcement that it would offer a self-contained camera/security device co-developed with LG. Although the security giant has not announced its go-to-market plans for the new device, we would imagine that, in addition to being sold directly to consumers, it would also be sold through and configured by ADT dealers, both company-owned and independent.
In that case, it would be odd that ADT would peddle an alarm system that is not UL-compliant. I mean, it’s ADT!
Home Automation Platform
Abode is a complete home automation system, too, integrating with off-the-shelf Z-Wave and ZigBee devices (starting with a selection of products vetted by Abode), as well as IP devices via IFTTT, the cloud-based if/then engine.
Although I don’t have much hands-on experience in setting up security or home automation systems, Abode’s demo of the set-up and configuration seemed simple and intuitive.
The home-grown SHaaS platform is solid, providing more self-provisioning options than Icontrol and Alarm.com, which both leave little to the do-it-yourselfer. The same could be said of other hybrid security/automation platforms like Honeywell TotalConnect, Napco iBridge, Securenet, Telguard and others, which give consumers some leeway in configuring alerts and smart devices, but nothing to level of Abode.
Abode offers a wizard-based process that even shows users where to plug in the Ethernet cable.
Creating automation scenes is simple, with activities triggered in three ways:
- System status (AWAY button triggers lights to turn off and security system to arm; motion sensor at front door triggers living room camera to record)
- Geo-location (ramp up thermostat when cellphone leaves workplace at the end of the day; prompt to arm security system when everyone leaves the house)
Note that both triggers (ifs) and responses (thens) could include products and services from the entire spectrum of connected devices, including ZigBee, Z-Wave, 433 MHz, cameras, IP devices, etc. The system can support up to 150 connected devices.
It’s All About the Business Model
At the end of the day, assuming the product works as advertised, it’s all about the go-to-market strategy, and here Abode stands out from the rest.
Because of its focus on security, the product is perfect for professional security dealers looking for a simpler solution to sell and install … and especially one that engages the customer.
Today’s most popular professional home security/automation systems – 2Gig, Honeywell, Interlogix, DSC and Napco – may be simple enough for trained security dealers to install but not so much the entry-level technician.
Consider the 250,000-or-so security/automation systems sold door-to-door every summer. Typically the salesperson knocks on the door and sells the system, followed a couple days later by a technician that rolls another truck for installation. In those couple of days, the customer is likely to cancel the order.
Now (permits allowing), salespeople could do simple installations themselves and leave the customer with a working system. Technicians could follow with more complicated devices and programming.
Let’s look at the key reason for security attrition: Homeowners barely interact with their systems, so when the bill comes they see no reason to continue paying.
By engaging the customer – asking if they want to monitor the system this week, allowing them to create text alerts when their kids come home from school, encouraging them to add lights to their security scenes – Abode is apt to keep customers longer, allowing dealers to continue earning recurring monthly revenue (RMR) far into the future.
Carney tells CE Pro that Abode is in talks with several of the major alarm dealers in the U.S. and Europe. Traditional home automation integrators also are interested in the platform, he says, “because they’re all looking for recurring revenue but they’re intimidated by security.”
Abode provides a back-end service for its dealers – after all, co-founder Brent Franks is from Salesforce.com – so they can remotely monitor and diagnose installed systems, regularly communicate with customers and manage their accounts.
At the same time, Abode is a natural fit for the DIY market because of its ease of use and flexible monitoring options.
Where Carney sees some of the best opportunity is in the new hybrid DIY/professional model in which 1) consumers configure and purchase their systems online, 2) the dealer configures and labels the products in the shop, and 3) the user installs the devices at home using individualized instructions.
This profitable model has been popularized by companies like FrontPoint, Protect America, LifeShield (purchased by DirecTV in 2013) and LiveWatch (purchased by Monitronics for huge multiples in 2015).
The Abode Starter Kit (gateway, two door/window sensors, PIR motion camera, remote key fob, mobile app) is expected to retail for less than $400, which is very competitive with similar systems. The cameras will sell for less than $200.
In addition to Kickstarter, the company has raised more than $1 million from angel investors, including Mike Snyder (ADT) and Jack Smith (Hotmail). A new fund-raising effort is underway.
“I invested in abode because of the vision that Chris & Brent have in disrupting an industry that hasn’t innovated in decades,” Snyder says. “This market is primed for disruption.”
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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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