CableLabs Pours Home Security Foundation
Well before MSOs such as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Suddenlink Communications , and Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI) began dipping their toes into broadband-based home security services, CableLabs, it turns out, had already created PacketCable SMA (Security, Monitoring, and Automation), specs that define the interfaces and protocol requirements for such services. (See Comcast Homes In on Security Services.)
The specs, published about two years ago, focus on two areas: the SMA gateway and the Event Server. The SMA gateway, which is sort of like a wireless embedded multimedia adapter (EMTA) used today for cable VoIP services, is the operator's communications link to a home's monitoring devices such as motion sensors or units that control locks, lights, and video cameras. The Event Server, meanwhile, sits on the network and originates communications from the MSO.
Boiled down, the architecture is cloud-like since most of the intelligence and applications live on the network, making it easier for operators to tweak or add new SMA products and features.
CableLabs, says director of strategic assessment Roy Perry, developed the specs using state-of-the-art SMA technology, basing it largely on existing products or those in development from Icontrol Networks Inc. and uControl Inc. , with the hopes of achieving interoperability down the road. Smart move, as it turns out, since those companies just inked a merger. [Ed. note: Actually, several other vendors participated in and contributed to the development of the SMA specs. We've included a full list on the message board.] (See iControl, uControl Strike Merger Deal .)
Opening SMA's horizon
CableLabs has broader aims, hoping its work will play a significant role with OpenSMA, an organization founded by uControl and several cable MSOs.
One aim is to cultivate a device ecosystem under which SMA devices can work together by abstracting proprietary device protocols into a common HTTP-based protocol, and thus making all devices IP-addressable and interoperable at the applications layer.
But that device domain work is "down the road," Perry says, noting that the first goal is to define how home SMA gateways from a variety of suppliers will interoperate with SMA servers.
Time to strike
Cable's move into the SMA sector may come at an opportune time, spurred on by the the pervasiveness of wireless in the home and the consumer adoption of smartphones that can control home security systems remotely.
"Home security has always been a nightmare because of wiring," says April Horace, a former cable and telecom analyst who's been tracking the industry's move into this market. "Now you can do it all wirelessly."
Plus, cable's sticking its nose into an incredibly fragmented industry. ADT Security Services Inc., the big dog, owns about 26 percent of the US market, but is five times larger than its nearest competitor, Horace says.
That scenario "will give cable operators a huge opportunity from the standpoint of up-selling subscribers," she adds.
But the move into that market isn't without barriers, since some consumers will be reluctant to trust cable with their home security and monitoring needs. Although, cable faced similar issues with voice and commercial services, and eventually overcame them.
Still, Horace expects cable to be fairly selective with who it's targeting first, likely starting with loyal triple-play customers who are likely to be most receptive to an advanced, broadband-fueled SMA service.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable