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Comcast Pursues Bigger Piece of Smart Home Market

Comcast is pushing ahead on a plan to take Xfinity Home, its home security and automation platform, to the next level in part by broadening a curated mix of devices that work with the platform while also adding elements that drive more value into the service and reduce service friction. 

“First and foremost, we have over the past year and a half focused heavily on disrupting the home security market,” Dan Herscovici, senior vice president and general manager of Xfinity Home, said in an interview soon after he keynoted the Parks Associates Connections conference in San Francisco on Tuesday (May 24).

But Comcast is now pushing well beyond connected home security and is now shooting to "reinvent the way consumers think about home security, to redefine what their expectation is from their home security system," he said. 

That means extending to other areas of the connected home, such as security cameras, door locks, garage door openers, doorbells and enabling them all on a common platform that simplifies the process for the consumer.

In that area, Comcast has been building its own smart home products while also extending a bridge to third-party products via its Works With Xfinity Home Program. About a dozen partners are on board, with four – Nest (smart thermostats), Chamberlain (garage door controllers), Lutron (smart lighting), and August (smart locks) – already integrated.

And Herscovici was clear that the program will provide customers with a “curated” blend of what it deems as best-of-breed third-party devices. The program uses APIs for integration, but products also must pass core functionality tests to determine if they are among the top options in their market and if they can be trusted to provide the necessary levels of security and reliability. Based on that process, the idea is to offer two to three options in different categories that offer a range of pricing and functionality.

During his keynote, Herscovici said Comcast is working to help drive the penetration of smart home services to “20%, 30% or 40%” of homes and to focus on four areas – life safety (security), peace of mind (access control), saving money (reducing energy use), and lifestyle (such as lighting and shade control).

As part of its game plan, Comcast also hopes to pump adoption by removing some of the friction by redefining what a platform means to customers and to rethink how it uses devices that are already in the home, such as routers and gateways, to “unlock and connect” various connected smart home products.

Comcast announced last year that it has more than 500,000 Xfinity Home customers, but has not yet updated that figure. “We are very happy with the growth of our home security product,” Herscovici

At the Parks Associates event, he said 75% of Xfinity Home net adds over the past 12 months were new to the category, and that about 80% that do have home security are using legacy systems.

“We are at the start of a massive upgrade cycle,” he said, likening it to a shift from flip-phones to smartphones. The question, he posed, is  who will win that “jump ball?”

There will be plenty of companies leaping for it. Comcast is trying to expand its share amid surging competition in the smart home and home security market. In addition to facing competition from AT&T, Verizon, ADT as well as a new retail-focused, DIY product from EchoStar called Sage, Comcast must also deal with new products and services from Google and Amazon.

As for Google and Amazon, Herscovici said Comcast views them as “frenemies,” referencing Xfinity Home’s integration with the Nest smart thermostat, and the potential to link Comcast’s service with Amazon Echo.

Working with Amazon’s platform is a theoretical at this point, but “there’s no reason why that voice interface [from Amazon Echo] couldn’t also interact with Xfinity Home,” he said in an interview. “It’s not something outside the realm of possibility. The point is we're open to best in class experiences. We're open to seeing things through the eye of the consumer and having the consumer drive what they want to be part of the ecosystem.”

Voice control appears to be a potentially valuable addition to that ecosystem. Comcast currently offers voice navigation on its X1 video service with its XR11 remote (opens in new tab) and has been noodling on ways to extend that functionality to Xfinity Home.

“We have working prototypes that allow you to arm and disarm [Xfinity Home] with your voice and turn the lights on… with the XR11 remote,” Herscovici said. “So stay tuned for news on that.”

And, as is the case for its video service, don’t expect Comcast to look outside the MSO’s  traditional service area for growth opportunities for Xfinity Home.

“We think there’s a lot of untapped potential in the footprint we serve today,” he said.