The Internet of Things (IoT) is a trendy catchphrase for something that cable's been talking about for years: connected homes, automated services and voice controls. Big players -- including Amazon, with its popular Alexa voice assistant; Apple; Google; and a multitude of startups -- have jumped into the field, but many players lack what cable already has: connectivity and customers.
Despite a checkered track record with previous home security and automation services, US cable providers are seeking to offer new IoT products and services, either on their own or by enabling other's dreams. IoT looms as a new opportunity to shake off cable's weakening pay-TV business and prove its prowess as a cutting-edge technology enabler.
A new Heavy Reading report, Heavy Reading report, "Move Over, Alexa, Cable's Jumping Into the Internet of Things," analyzes cable providers' IoT plans and the opportunities and challenges ahead. The IoT category is overrun with ideas, from the practical to the fanciful, and the competition is fierce. The report assesses market drivers and four key use cases for cable:
- Home automation: expanding home security services to perform household tasks, such as monitoring and managing thermostats, lights, cameras and sensors
- Business services: meeting small business needs for sensors and cameras to large enterprise demands for asset monitoring and machine-to-machine learning
- Smart cities: working with municipalities to support energy management, water control, outdoor lighting, public and school safety, police and fire department activity and other city operations
- Telehealth: supporting healthcare professionals and services with video communications and apps for remote healthcare needs
Along with the increasing might of cable's broadband pipes and expansive WiFi networks, cable's IoT efforts are being fueled by LoRa, a wireless technology well-suited for low power wide area networks (LPWAN) that can carry IoT commands over distances of about 30 miles. CableLabs has issued an open-source LoRa spec and Comcast has deployed LoRaWAN in more than 15 metropolitan markets.
IoT comes with tremendous challenges and responsibilities, Heavy Reading says. News stories have raised alarm about hackers or potential Alexa eavesdropping. The more that cable gets involved with technology inside a home or business, the greater the responsibility -- or even potential liability. Who do you think will get blamed if a cable-connected smart refrigerator fails and all the food gets spoiled?
Perhaps the best position for cable providers is to use their platform to aggregate and enable IoT experiences by established and emerging solutions providers, the report says. A recent study of consumer habits in the connected home, conducted by Magid for Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM), concluded that consumers want to move from IoT to the "Internet of Intelligence," and for service providers "the best enabler will win."
To that end, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Cox Communications Inc. have both launched services -- Comcast's machineQ and Cox's Cox2M -- that are signing up IoT solution providers as customers and supporting distribution of their products and services. machineQ is providing LoRaWAN support for IoT providers that are offering everything from water management and smart streetlights to soil monitoring and rodent control. The Heavy Reading report identifies 21 IoT providers in roles with US cable providers.
IoT is unlikely to serve as a quick offset for cable's declining pay-TV fortunes, Heavy Reading says. But over time it could prove to be another way for cable to leverage its broadband assets and derive revenue, all the while riding a new wave of innovation.
— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading