Technology

CES 2018: Comcast Scales Home Automation Services to 15M Subs

Stringify acquisition to fuel Comcast’s ability to extend automation across X1, xFi, Xfinity Home, Xfinity Mobile (Updated) 1/10/2018 12:00 PM Eastern Last updated at 1/10/2018 5:11 PM

Las Vegas – Adding more scale to its smart home scope, Comcast said it has extended home automation services to more than 15 million customers, and is working to enable that capability across multiple services, including X1 (TV and the X1 voice remote), xFi (WiFi), Xfinity Home and Xfinity Mobile. 

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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 the home’s doors, turn off the lights, adjust thermostats and arm their home 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 that work 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. 

RELATED: Comcast Buys Stringify

“We are playing in the intersection of digital and physical coming together,” Sridhar Solur, SVP of product development for Xfinity Home and IoT, said in an interview ahead of this week’s CES in Las Vegas.

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 parnters 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 it will 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 across multiple Comcast services as well as many 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 lineup of products and services.

Comcast said that work will enable it to create a large number of rules and controls for smart home products from companies that include August, Carrier, Chamberlain, GE, Honeywell, Kwikset, Liftmaster, LIFT, Lutron, Nest, Netgear, Arlo, Philips Hue, Danalock, Sengled, SkyBell, Tile, Yale, and Zen Ecosystems, among others.

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.

“We have integrated automation as a platform…that’s what Stringify brought to the table,” Solur said.

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.

Update: Comcast shed a bit more light on its smart home automation initiative here Wednesday morning 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’s EVP 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. Comcast will be integrating Tile with its service platforms.

Satchell suggested that these integrations are part of what’s “missing” from IoT today, as device makers usually leave it up to the consumer to figure out how to connect devices and make them work with others. “We’re going to take that stress away from the customer,” Satchell said.

Moving forward, Comcast will enable customers to create “scenes” that automate how those IoT devices work together. A “leave mode,” for example, can be made to automatically lock the home’s doors, turn down the lights and adjust the thermostat.

Satchell also offered an update on usage of xFi, the home WiFi management system that Comcast introduced in May.

About 4 million customers are using the xFi app and web site to manage their home WiFi, he said. “We’re rapidly increasing towards that 15 million addressable total number of households.”

He also shed some light on some new xFi features in the works.

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. If it’s not getting the right speed, the system will offer tips on how to resolve it and run a retest. Stream Check will also tell the user if the connection is optimized and capable of getting SD, HD or even 4K video.

Away Mode will ensure that unknown devices can’t connect to the home WiFi network when the customer is away – on vacation, for example. It will also send the user a notification if an unknown device is trying to gain access.

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

From a broad sense, Comcast’s work in all of these areas “is about how we see this transitioning more and more toward our portfolio being an experience,” Matt Strauss, EVP of Xfinity Services, said. “Where today we sell based on price, over time our ambition is to sell on experience…The more products and services you take from us, the better that experience." 

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