Control & Automation

Vivint Selling Super-High-Speed Wireless Broadband Door-to-Door

After acquisition of Smartrove, Vivint is offering 50 Mbps upstream/downstream wireless broadband for $55/month in addition to security, home automation, solar power - all sold door-to-door; Utah zero-energy home showcases the goods.


Vivint provides solar power, security, home automation and wireless broadband at Garbett Homes zero-energy house in Utah.

Photos & Slideshow

Julie Jacobson · August 16, 2013

Vivint is best known for peddling security and home automation door-to-door, especially during the summer when it sells roughly 200,000 systems each year. Now the Salt Lake City company, acquired by Blackstone Capital for about $1.86 billion in 2012 (after 2Gig divestiture), is selling solar power and wireless broadband, and hinting that TV service may not be far behind.

Look out Comcast/Xfinity and the energy utilities?

Vivint started selling solar services in 2011 and says it is now the No. 2 provider with “thousands” of installations, even though it only does business in six states (see the excellent GreentTechMedia piece about new $200M investment in Vivint Solar). As with Vivint’s security and home automation offerings, solar power is sold the old-fashioned way: door to door.

RELATED: How Vivint Sells 200k Security, Automation Systems in a Summer

Now the new Vivint Wireless division is going door-to-door with super-high-speed wireless broadband - 50 Mbps upstream and downstream for $55/month. The company is still in the trial phase with about 300 customers but they aspire to millions.

“We want to be the supplier for everything that has recurring engagement,” says Tim Lott, director of energy for Vivint.

The Net-Zero Home


All of the Vivint “recurring engagement” services are on display at the brand new “Zero Home” in Salt Lake City, which I had the opportunity to tour earlier this month.

Built by Garbett Homes, the house is billed as the “first affordable, climate 5 net-zero ‘smart home’ to achieve a HERS 0 rating.”

“Affordable” means about $150 per square foot, according to Garbett marketing director Rene Oehlerking.

Climate 5 refers to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) climate zone map that corresponds to the SLC area’s cold, dry climate. The HERS Index is the industry standard for measuring a home’s energy efficiency - the lower the rating, the more self-sufficient the home. So a zero rating is really really efficient.

Vivint installed the photovoltaic system at the house and will sell the power as soon as Utah lets it.

Here’s how it works: Vivint leases the solar panels to consumers for 20 years.

The homeowners pay nothing up front. Instead, they pay Vivint for the solar energy they consume each month at a cost of roughly 20 percent less than the local utility charges.

Vivint keeps all the incentive funds provided by utilities and government programs (often in the five-figure range) and also pockets any cash for reselling excess energy to the utility.

Here’s the rub: This arrangement is only legal in states that allow power purchase agreements (PPAs). Utah isn’t one of them … yet. So for now, Garbett Homes is simply including the solar panels in the price of the house.

That price, by the way, includes almost everything you see in the zero-energy model home sans furniture and electric car – the photovoltaic system, car charging station, high-efficiency energy recovery ventilator (ERV) that combines a heat exchanger with a ventilation system, current transformer (CT) clamp for monitoring energy usage, all the best window materials and insulation, plus luxurious design elements including appliances, high-end countertops and uber-stylish custom doors made by Masonite exclusively for Garbett Homes (lots of pics in the accompanying slideshow).

“Everything you see here is included,” says Garbett’s Oehlerking.

That includes, of course, the security and automation system.

Home Automation & Security


The energy-efficient features of the Zero Home are multiplied with the home automation system installed by Vivint. The system is from 2Gig with some features exclusive to Vivint and special sauce developed through Vivint’s own Innovation Lab (below).

Here’s what Vivint gets that other 2Gig dealers do not: a sleek new touchscreen with built-in camera, a hard drive for local DVR, a new user interface and some exclusive energy monitoring and management software (many of these features were demonstrated by 2Gig last April at ISC but Vivint gets them first.)

I’ve always thought energy dashboards showing graphs and pie charts of a household’s energy usage were silly, but Vivint’s VP of innovation Jeremy Warren says the trick is to provide “actionable headlines” based on the data, which Vivint does.

With Vivint’s “energy analytics,” the system might suggest, for example, “You’re using 20 percent more energy than your neighbors. Do you want to adjust the thermostat?”

The automation system also provides data from the photovoltaics, letting users know how much solar power they’re generating, consuming and potentially selling back to the utility.

As for the other automation features, Garbett installs as standard automated door locks, security sensors, Z-Wave thermostats, plug-in Z-Wave modules (not switches) and cameras.

The cameras can be set to record all activity all the time and the system can store a month’s worth of videos for up to four cameras (i.e., 120 camera days). The camera built into the touchscreen, then, would record who is logging into the system – your daughter’s boyfriend, perhaps?

Interactivity currently is provided through Vivint’s longtime partner in cloud-based security and home automation, Alarm.com; however, Vivint is developing its own cloud-based platform in-house and eventually plans to migrate some of its 700,000-plus accounts to that platform.

Vivint’s Innovation Lab and Broadband Aspirations


Vivint is not content to sell just security, home automation and energy. It wants to rival the big boys in high-speed Internet as well.

Today, Vivint has about 300 customers for a new wireless broadband service it is testing in Utah. If you think wireless IP is lame, think again. Vivint’s service delivers roughly 50 Mbps upstream and downstream, but even higher speeds are supported - Vivint likes the extra capacity to give customers the highest speeds even at peak times.

On the day I visited the Zero Home, I watched 4K Ultra HD video being streamed from YouTube at 55 Mbps while the upstream speed was clocking 44 Mbps. Granted, it was playing on one of those cheap Seiki 4K displays, but still …

Vivint is charging a mere $55/month for the service ($60 without a two-year contract).

“You could pay Comcast $100 for the same download speeds but you won’t get fast uploads,” says Warren, the innovation director.

To deploy the service, Vivint taps into the closest broadband pipe and sends signals via microwave to a receiver erected in the neighborhood. The receiver, which looks something like a big satellite dish, then relays the signals to small boxes perched on select homes in the area, which ultimately transmit 5 GHz Wi-Fi signals to neighboring homes.

Those who volunteer to host one of the discreet Wi-Fi hubs get a discount on their broadband service. Each hub can serve about five to seven homes.

Fueling the system is Smartrove, a provider of wireless mesh networking technology recently acquired by Vivint. The algorithms developed by Smartrove optimize quality of service for broadband delivery, explaining the gorgeous 4K streaming video at the Zero Home.

Here’s how Smartrove describes its solutions:

Smartrove implements a self-healing mesh network, with a unique degree of control over individual streams to meet traffic SLAs [service level agreements]. Using low profile phased array antenna technology coupled with MIMO, peer nodes dynamically discover optimal routed paths. Using 4X4 spatial diversity, and digital beamforming, the mesh architecture delivers higher throughput and range extension than conventional radio.

Smartrove brings together technologies to enable city wide Wi-Fi cloud deployment and has various products to meet specific needs in outdoor carrier grade networks for verticals like law enforcement, public services and 3G/4G offload.

Just as with security, home automation and now solar, Vivint is selling broadband door-to-door.

To make the economics work, Vivint needs to win about 25 percent of a neighborhood, according to Luke Langford, Vivint director of strategy and COO of Vivint Wireless.

The good news is that selling the service is pretty darn simple. Unlike security, automation and solar, high-speed Internet is universally understood and everyone wants it faster and cheaper.

“We don’t need sales superstars,” says Langford.

And once one household goes, so goes the neighborhood.

Langford says that Vivint is launching its wireless service slowly at first to iron out any sales and operations kinks before a national roll-out. He says Vivint is fully aware of the customer-service burdens placed on broadband providers and the company is up to the task: “We are fully prepared to get those calls—‘My Kindle won’t connect to the Internet’.”

Will Vivint be the Next Apple? Comcast?


Vivint believes it can provide all of these valuable services and more “in such a way as to become a household brand, like Apple,” says director of energy Lott. “We create experiences that make life easier.”

The sentiment is echoed by strategy director Langford who says Vivint “has a good brand now” but the company expects to rival the likes of Comcast in the not-too-distant future. He intimates that door-to-door sales tactics will continue, but Vivint would like more customers to come to them, rather than the other way around. As such, the company plans to invest heavily in enticing more inbound customers.

Much of this planning takes place at Vivint’s new Innovation Lab, a skunkworks organization of big dreamers, currently numbering about 100 product designers, user experience experts, marketers, researchers, operations guys and other thinkers and doers.

With business and family ties to 2Gig, Vivint in the past has relied largely on that manufacturer—now part of Nortek’s Carlasbad, Calif.-based Linear group—to chart its technological path. Via the Innovation Lab, Vivint will be taking more control of its future, while still partnering with 2Gig, which maintains a sizable staff in Salt Lake City to work exclusively with Vivint.

At the Lab, I saw scribblings all over ubiquitous white boards and glass windows that will some day become the next Vivint thermostat or iPad interface.

So what’s next? I asked Langford when Vivint might make a quintuple-play and add TV service to security, home automation, power and broadband.

“Hopefully soon,” he says, noting that it would make sense to partner with an existing provider rather than go it alone.

Vivint definitely fancies itself as the next Comcast/Xfinity, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, AT&T or other multi-service providers. But while the other guys offer Internet, TV, security and automation, none of them does energy and certainly none of them has thousands of well-trained salespeople knocking on doors and providing a treasure trove of feedback to the higher-ups.


  About the Author

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 jjacobson@ehpub.com

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Control & Automation · Automation · Lighting · Security · Surveillance Systems · News · Media · Slideshow · 2gig · Vivint · Zero Home · All Topics
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