June 20, 2016

The Hot List: Home Gateways Hot List: The Hype is Deserved

Everyone in the industry has been hearing about intelligent buildings, smart homes, and operator-based gateway services for decades. While it would nice to distinguish between the gateways that provide connectivity and the ones that provide services, most smart home services rely on Wi-Fi to be available in the home, while some more specific solutions take advantage of the broadband or LTE. Tom Shafron, CTO at Clear2There, points out that Wi-Fi is probably not the right solution for many IoT devices and for that reason new Wi-Fi standards (i.e. 802.11ah) are in the process of being brought to the market.

However, Wi-Fi is the do-it-yourself preference, and gateways from Belkin, D-Link, and Netgear have bundled smart home solutions. Meanwhile, carriers like ATT’s Digital Life or Comcast Labs bundle connectivity with their broadband services while still using Wi-Fi for some applications.

Most of the home gateway solutions in this article are about the functions they provide and not the access portion. In addition, some of the home gateway services mentioned in this article are very specific solutions while others are more comprehensive. Shafron points out that the experience at Clear2There shows that once customers buy a system, they tend to have add on applications and devices. 

This hot list looks at how lifestyles are being enabled by home gateway solutions and not the technology. As is often the case for internet, cloud, and as-a-service solutions, the gateways enhance existing solutions. (It’s not a light switch; it’s an environmental setting). Home gateways are in this mode as they have reached a new consumer model that changes the devices from a connector to an experience. In effect, we are moving from the mobile phone to the mobile-connected home.

A good example of the general trend is that home lock services are often used by AirBnB clients to enable renters to have access to a home with a code that is only available for their allotted time. Another example of what is possible can be found with August Locks, which now has the additional feature of August Access. What August Access has done is partnered with companies that offer delivery to make it so the homeowner can trust the delivery to be placed inside the house and not at the door. These solutions are very desirable for specific customers.

The impact then is one where the old guard that has market share today servicing general needs for home security, temperature control, etc., can easily become yesterday’s news.  Consumer demand then is very much an aftermarket afterthought for a variety of solutions.

Distinction for the home gateways is found in the specific services they provide. Damir Skripic, product manager for Netgear’s Arlo Q product line, pointed out in an interview with Engadget that the differentiators are not in the hardware and thin client. Cloud storage, availability of content and analytics are where customers will see distinctions.

Now with that said, I have to say that home gateways represent an interesting after market/new market opportunity. Friends in the high-rise condo/construction industry tell me they have had difficulties deploying smart home gateways that rely on the cloud for configuration and storage of subscriber information. This is similar to the value of MVNOs and their OSS systems that manage enterprise requirements better for provisioning and configuration. This translates into an opportunity for either existing MVNOs to service the smart building marketplace or other smart building service companies to bridge the gap. 

In Google’s Nest community, the partner solutions being sought are with utilities and energy providers. Google’s Nest also has an advantage of being bundled with Google Fiber being offered and deployed in various locations. However, it is rare that the construction of a high rise starts with the deployment of fiber connectivity. 

Worldwide connectivity issues continue to plague the industry. In Europe, this has lead to an interesting effort called the Home Gateway Initiative. This effort looks to specify the development of a blended gateway that supports both DSL and LTE. In my opinion, this addresses the home gateway issues in Europe better than previous efforts; however, since GSM is still dominant, rollouts will probably need aggressive marketing efforts.

Today, though, the aftermarket is dominating the revenue stream, which means self-management and do it yourself are the norm. Perhaps then I should add YouTube to The Hot List, since we are rapidly approaching 7 million videos of everything from “How to Install: Do it Yourself” to “Caught at Home” social sharing of funny surveillance videos (normally involving uninvited wild animals).

This is part of the reason that the home gateway is in such transition. The social aspect of connecting to your machines could include the use of location-based services to start your heat or AC or the two-way communication to unexpected visitors.

This puts traditional providers like GE, Honeywell, and Philips in the uncomfortable position of being legacy providers in transition.

However, the reality is that they have been quick to adopt and have a greater spectrum of sensors (e.g. water leaks and air quality) to deploy and manage. This makes prioritization of rollouts important as a single app interface for all the possibilities in their product line requires a good user interface.

The do-it-yourself world also has this problem if the selection is best of breed and not specific to a one-stop shop. Bang & Olufsen’s BeoLink is a solution for the customer who wants best of breed and still wants the universal remote simplicity. 

For those who are capable of doing a little self-management the If That, Then This (IFTTT) community is a great aid to your efforts. IFTTT is like GitHub, Adwords, and YouTube combined for a very open community. It features raw interfaces called ingredients, widgets called recipes and groupings called channels. The ability to embed the recipes onto any web post is a boon to many companies looking for social word of mouth to build their momentum.

For some of the home gateways solutions like alarm companies, the flexibility and self-management solutions are very different models and hard to adapt and adopt. 

Probably the most challenged legacy systems are the sprinkler systems, where sensors and software combine to reduce waste and enable homeowners to proactively monitor their yards. That includes sprinkler solutions like Droplet and management systems like Lono and Rachio.

While Google’s Nest makes the news more often, Apple’s HomeKit is frequently referenced by many companies, particularly with the use of iBeacon. Ayla Networks, for example, has used iBeacons that enabled proximity controls for Hunter Fans. Clear2There, on the other hand, is focused on delivering a common smart home interface for a variety of solution providers.

In the end, it’s clear that personal concerns are driving buying decisions in the market today. We will probably have a lot more startups and solutions before consolidation hits this part of the market. My brother asked me about water monitoring sensors as I told him what I was working on. Perhaps the problems in Flint, Mich., are indication of yet another IoT opportunity.

Feel free to suggest other home appliances that I have not included. This list is still very hot and very active.

Arlo Q Netgear’s Arlo Q combined with its Nighthawk Wi-Fi gateways represents one of the most bandwidth-intensive experiences with seven days of cloud video storage and strong smart app design.

ATT’s Digital Life has a base line for surveillance, and is expandable to include lighting, thermostats, and door locks. In addition, ATT has a rich community of developers looking to expand the solutions.

Bang & Olufsen’s BeoLink is a gateway to the gateway, providing simple interfaces through its remote and smart phone app to connect to the disparate systems. BeoLink’s history is with audio sound systems, so managing best of breed is a specialty.

Belkin’s WeMo solutions are fundamentally about power outlets and lights. They also include connectivity to a variety of household and kitchen appliances and participate actively in the IFTTT community.

British Gas’s Hive is more than a thermostat; its focus is on controlling all the potential points of temperature loss and energy consumption. The Hive hub is integrated to its application software.

CaSa Connect’s Caleo is the first Wi-Fi-enabled voltage regulating connection to baseboard heaters. The installation requires an electrician for the less handy user. The smart app is capable of supporting individual room systems.

Comcast Xfinity Home seems to be going through a revamp based on some dead links.  However, Comcast Labs is referenced by many existing solutions.

D-Link’s mydlink combines sensors and outlets to enable enhanced notification and automatic actions. The system includes moisture, motion, and smoke sensors.

Google’s Nest is a home automation solution that is programmable, self-learning, sensor driven, and Wi-Fi enabled. It features thermostat, CO2, smoke alarms, and surveillance cameras. It also has developer interfaces for expanded solutions.

Honeywell’s Total Connect Comfort has a voice interface on your
smartphone, and the complete portfolio includes Lyric for managing water leaks and frozen pipes.However, the software to manageall aspects of the Honeywell product line is yet to be released.

Lowe’s Iris is a home solution that uses your smartphone as its primary interface, providing an intuitive app. You can control your thermostat, locks, lights, and surveillance systems.

The tado product line is for managing your energy requirements. It features the additional support of monitoring and managing your boiler with the ability to dispatch local repair.

Verizon’s Canary is a home security system that includes interfaces to monitors for a variety of sensors that address temperature, humidity, and air quality. One feature of note is the use of HD video.

UTC’s Carrier cor is being used by KB Homes and is available for existing systems. Its core focus includes energy reports.

X.10 For those of us old enough to remember when x.10 was also a VoIP client company, I place them in here to remember that sometimes things go full circle. X.10 is still one of the largest video surveillance distributors around.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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