The Smart Money's on Smart Home

Jan. 10, 2017
The rise of smart home technologies and their adoption is one of the safer bets to come out of the CES show floor in Las Vegas last week. Let's take a look at some of the smart home-related news that ...

The rise of smart home technologies and their adoption is one of the safer bets to come out of the CES show floor in Las Vegas last week. Let's take a look at some of the smart home-related news that has come out both in the last few days and just before the end of the year.

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) has made a slew of announcements of late, including the introduction of a whole-home networking solution. The cloud-based platform, which will be included at no extra cost for customers with a Comcast WiFi gateway device, is intended to allow people to add devices, pause device use during dinnertime, pair WiFi extenders to boost signal strength and use voice controls to see who's on the network.

The new service is scheduled to be automatically enabled in the first half of 2017 for the approximately 10 million existing Xfinity Internet customers who have a compatible Xfinity wireless gateway. That number is expected to grow to more than 15 million by the end of the year as Comcast's new Advanced Wireless Gateway becomes available.

Comcast also revealed that a connected thermostat from Zen Ecosystems has been integrated into the Xfinity Home ecosystem. This is a step toward the relaunch of EcoSaver technology that will help customers reduce energy usage with real-time weather analytics.

Other devices that have been integrated into the Xfinity Home ecosystem are August Smart Locks, Chamberlain MyQ garage controllers, Lutron Caséta wireless controllers and dimmers, and thermostats. Comcast also recently announced new lighting partnerships with Sengled and Jasco. More partnership announcements are expected in 2017.

TP-Link is introducing Deco at CES, which is a line of whole home WiFi systems, and includes the Deco M5Router and the Deco M5 Plus Router with Powerline. The first uses WiFi mesh technology for connectivity in every room in the house. The second version adds Powerline technology to WiFi in one form factor.

TP-Link also is adding two networking products - the AC2300 Wireless MU-MIMO Gigabit Router and the RE650 AC2600 WiFi Range Extender with MU-MIMO. The first talks to multiple devices, placing each on the best WiFi band. This allows users to prioritize games, movies and other content or assign bandwidth to devices.

TP-Link says that the RE650 eliminates dead zones, drop outs and spotty signals. It works with any WiFi router, access point or modem router to boost WiFi coverage and performance throughout the home.

ARRIS' (NASDAQ:ARRS) Secure Home Gateway portfolio will embed the McAfee Secure Home Platform by Intel (NASDAQ:INTC). This will provide security for all devices connected to the home network, including gaming consoles, cameras, wearables and smart TVs and appliances.

The CPE product line is intended to offer network-level security to protect all devices connected to the home network against threats like viruses, malware, and phishing scams. The products are designed to act like a home security system, managing the flow of data between the Internet and the home's connected devices. A mobile app is intended to let consumers manage their home gateway security settings.

The ARRIS SURFboard SBG7580-AC will be the first device to embed the McAfee Secure Home Platform. The SURFboard SBG7580-AC with McAfee Secure Home Internet is expected to become available around the first half of 2017 at Amazon, Best Buy (in-store and online), and Future ARRIS broadband devices will also feature this embedded security - adding to the portfolio of Secure Home Gateway solutions.

Qorvo and ubisys, a smart home and Internet of Things (IoT) company, have developed a gateway solution intended to allow various devices to communicate by integrating a ZigBee 3.0 and Green Power-based smart home network within the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) IoTivity framework. This framework provides specifications for device-to-device connectivity across physical media, transports and application layers.

The Qorvo IoTivity plug-ins are intended to support a single, multi-stack radio chip. Qorvo's GP712 chip is intended to simultaneously handle multiple IoT network layers, including Thread, ZigBee 3.0 with Green Power and RF4CE networks. The GP712 is intended to simplify the design of IoT gateways, routers and set-top boxes by reducing components and antennas.

Qorvo also introduced the GP712 voice-activated radio chip and software for smart home applications. The chip is intended to be integrated into virtual personal assistants (VPAs) to enable the VPA to respond to voice commands and communicate directly with smart home devices that use ZigBee and Thread protocols.

The prognosticators also are talking smart home, particularly how much voice control will be a part of the future.

ABI Research reports that voice control will account to close to a third of smart home device revenues by 2021. Voice control smart home devices, typified by the Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Echo, are expected to represent almost 30% of smart home device spending by 2021, despite being a device category that barely existed two years ago.

Amazon's market leadership with its Alexa products and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) emerging Home platform strategy reflect not just the popularity of voice control devices within the home, but also how voice will become a key smart home interface in the still emerging market for smart home managed systems. Alongside Amazon and Google, Apple, Samsung (PINK:SSNLF) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) all have the impetus to bring similar devices and functionality to market.

While voice control is expected to take a greater share of device revenue spending, it is also expected to push into and help drive all smart home markets and device categories. By 2021, more than 600 million smart home devices are expected to ship annually, up from 40 million in 2015.

Parks Associates agrees, saying that smart home applications are increasingly shifting to voice control. The research house says 44% of U.S. broadband households have used voice control functions on at least one of their connected smart home platforms, including 64% of heads of household ages 18-24.

The high usage rates among Millennials suggest that voice controls are quickly becoming the preferred means of interaction with Internet-connected devices, and younger consumers especially will see greater value in new smart home platforms with voice control as standard in the user interface.

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