ABB Repositions as ‘Mid-Level’ Home Automation for CEDIA Channel

ABB has pivoted from a high-end home-automation play to a more mainstream position in the U.S. with Free@Home security, access control and smart-home system.

ABB Repositions as ‘Mid-Level’ Home Automation for CEDIA Channel

ABB's Benjamin Fuller: You don't see sleek products like these in other mid-market smart-home systems.

ABB, the Switzerland-based energy, electrical and automation giant, is finding its groove in the U.S. smart-home market.

In 2018 the company launched its Free@Home automation system in the U.S. One year later, at CEDIA Expo 2019, ABB honed its messaging as a pre-eminent smart-home provider for the mid-market.

“We were going after the high end,” says Benjamin Fuller, U.S. marketing and sales director for ABB, “but we learned to focus on the mid-tier.”

Free@Home revolves around the next-gen System Access Point 2.0 ($399 MSRP) that communicates with the ABB cloud and third-party systems via Wi-Fi. The hub communicates with ABB’s own automation devices via a proprietary 2.4 GHz wireless mesh technology and/or a twisted-pair bus that employs the KNX control protocol.

The company prides itself on slick industrial design, the likes of which you don’t see in most modestly priced home-automation systems. ABB’s smart thermostat ($245 retail), for example, features a touch-LCD interface that adapts its brightness based on ambient light levels. A built-in proximity sensor wakes up the display when motion is detected. Elegant LED curves on the display change colors based on operating mode – red for heating, blue for cooling. A built-in humidity sensor can be used to trigger local humidifiers/dehumidifiers.

“To me, that’s the big one. There’s no solution like this, not at this price point.”

ABB’s Benjamin Fuller on IP-Based ‘Welcome’ Door-Entry System

Likewise, ABB’s newish “Welcome” IP door-entry solution for the Free@Home ecosystem is affordably priced and nice to look at – as is the companion 7-inch indoor monitor that allows users to view the entry cam (and other cameras on the property), communicate with the visitor, operate the access control system and control the entire home … just like ABB’s Free@Home mobile app.

“I don’t see a lot of mid-tier solutions that offer a beautiful [access] control panel that can do intercom throughout the house,” Fuller says.

When he demos the intercom system with Free@Home, “It’s a slam dunk,” he adds. “To me, that’s the big one. There’s no solution like this, not at this price point.”

ABB Free@Home mid-market home automation and door-entry system.

Fuller says that even integrators who spec other traditional mid-level control systems still “want something for smaller jobs” that might include access control and intercoms, climate control, security, and integration with popular third-party products including Philips Hue, Sonos, Amazon Alexa … and now Bosch appliances.

On the flip side, security dealers have been using ABB as an upsell opportunity. Fuller recalls one particular dealer who “went into a large residential project and brought in our smart-home offering. … He was hired to do cameras and ended up selling ABB with more than 100 smart devices.”

ABB Dealer Program in Full Swing

Over the past year, as ABB has honed its smart-home product line for the channel, the company has also shored up its dealer program — engaging local reps and hiring regional business development resources, for starters. In addition, ABB launched the ABB Installer Advantage program to provide training, marketing materials and enhanced support for dealer members. Integrators can earn valuable rewards, distributed each month, and redeemable through the company’s Installer Advantage website.

ABB discussed the program with dealers at CEDIA Expo 2019, where attendees got to enjoy a “30-foot experience” in a mock apartment on wheels.

The show generated “many good leads that have already turned into business opportunities for us,” according to Fuller. “I think we benefited from some more brand recognition this year (2019) versus last year (2018) as well as having a unique experience for customers to see our solutions in a working environment – our Smarter Home Experience.”