Cable operator Comcast has turned to a Silicon Valley startup for the software behind its home security and energy management product unveiled on Wednesday: iControl. Seven-year-old, Palo Alto, Calif-based iControl is backed by Comcast itself, as well as Kleiner Perkins, Charles River Ventures, Intel Capital, Cisco, GE, and security firm ADT — so the company has a long history and lots of friends in high places that led up to this deal.
Comcast rolled out the home surveillance and management service in six markets this week, and the product enables customers to monitor their home 24/7 with video, turn lights on and off and thermostats up and down, and get alerts via email or text when a window opens or something occurs. iControl Co-CEO Jim Johnson told me in an interview on Thursday that home security is first and foremost the purpose for the service, but that energy management is a secondary application for customers and is also available in all of the markets via Comcast.
Cable operators and telcos are increasingly beginning to offer home management services as a way to try to avoid becoming a dumb pipe, and also to reduce churn and add extra subscription revenues. Verizon launched a similar service on a trial basis in New Jersey in December, which included home security control and monitoring, as well as energy reading devices, smart thermostats, and smart appliance control devices, among other applications. Verizon worked with Motorola’s 4Home (a startup which it acquired in December), as well as Ingersoll-Rand for the security applications.
iControl will provide the software layer for the Xfinity-branded home service, while Comcast provides the broadband connection, a cellular company will provide a wireless link, and third-party hardware providers will make the dashboards and security gadgets. iControl has long had the strategy to white label its service and to avoid getting into the hardware market itself. Johnson says iControl also has other unannounced service provider customers in the works, too.
Over the past couple of years, broadband service providers have emerged as a potential distribution channel for home energy management products, beyond slow-moving utilities. While it’s taken these providers quite awhile to launch actual products, 2011 has emerged as a year when the companies are actually moving these services into customer’s homes. On Thursday a company called EcoFactor, which has long talked about working with broadband service providers, unveiled data about how it can save home owner customers 17 percent on their energy bills by using big data tools and hooking into connected thermostats.
The Comcast service starts at $39.95 a month and was first unveiled in Houston in mid 2010 and is now being rolled out in parts of Philadelphia; Portland, Ore.; Jacksonville and Sarasota/Naples, Fla.; Chattanooga and Nashville, Tenn.