Comcast Sets Sights on Smart Home

Xfinity Home is apparently just one small chapter in the larger smart home story being written by Comcast.

Comcast, which has already extended home automation services to more than 15 million customers, is now working toward a broader platform that can bring smart home capabilities across its full suite of services, including X1 (TV and the X1 voice remote), xFi (whole-home WiFi management), Xfinity Mobile, and the aforementioned Xfinity Home service.

By way of example, that move toward automation across services will enable a customer to say “Good night” into their X1 voice remote to automatically lock a home’s doors, turn off the lights, adjust thermostats and arm their security system.

That drive toward unified automation across those services stems strongly from Comcast’s adoption of a cloud-based Internet of Things platform from Stringify, which Comcast acquired in September 2017. That tie-in will eventually span across Comcast’s product line, but for now is centered on Comcast’s xFi Wireless Gateway (formerly known as the XB3) and the xFI Advanced Wireless gateway, a new DOCSIS 3.1-based device that used to be called the XB6.

“We are playing in the intersection of digital and physical coming together,” Sridhar Solur, senior vice president of product development for Xfinity Home and IoT, said in an interview.

He noted that the push for scale will enable Comcast to support and integrate a massively greater number of third-party partners across its suite of products.

The acquisition of Stringify and its technology and talent has been “instrumental” in helping Comcast bring in more digital and physical partners together and enable automation across all of them, he said.

“From there, we are moving to a world of open interconnectivity,” Solur said, adding that would enable Comcast to push well beyond a relatively small curated set of partners for Xfinity Home (which has about 1 million subscribers) to a much broader and diversified approach that spans multiple Comcast services, as well as more partners from the smart home sector.

Stringify’s platform, already powering automation service for more than 500 IoT products and digital services, will soon be integrated into Xfinity’s products.

Extending the Ecosystem

Comcast said that work will also help it to extend its partner ecosystem to other product categories such as wearables, automotive, voice assistants, and social media platforms.

It will also set the table to drive the concept of presence into automation, enabling the creation of rules and automation flows not just for the home, but to each individual who lives in the home, he explained.

Comcast shed a bit more light on its smart home automation initiative here Jan. 10 at a press conference, noting that it will tie into a broadened “Works With Xfinity” program.

“This is where we will democratize automation and make it available to the broadest number of customers,” starting with xFi and Comcast’s latest line of gateways, Chris Satchell, Comcast executive vice president and chief product officer, said.

“We’re going to work with any company that wants to approach us,” he added, noting that partners can decide whether to go for a shallow or deep integration. “We want to interoperate with everybody.”

One example highlighted is Comcast’s work with Tile, a company that has developed a system that tracks a person’s belongings. In addition to hardware-based devices that track items like keys, Tile is also moving ahead with software-based integrations of its tracking system.

Satchell also shed light on some new smart home features in development. Stream Check will add intelligence that tells the customer if they are getting the right streaming rate based on the capability of the end device and the speed of the connection.

Away Mode will ensure that unknown devices can’t connect to the home WiFi network when the customer is away — on vacation, for example.

Secure Connect Mode will enable users to authorize and monitor access by others that request to join the home network, and to deny access or set a time limit for access.