Comcast announced earlier this year that it was adding support for the Nest Learning Thermostat, August Smart Lock, Chamberlain MyQ garage-door controller, and the Lutron Caseta wireless lighting controller so that subscribers could manage those devices from the Xfinity Home app. Today, Comcast activated that support.
Customers can buy these devices on their own, and they can install them themselves. Many other connected-home and home-security service providers require the consumer to purchase the products from them and to pay for installation. Comcast does require, however, that one of its technicians install any new hardware that could trigger the alarm system. As with similar services from Vivint, ADT, Frontpoint, and other service providers, Comcast provides 24/7 central monitoring and will notify the appropriate emergency responders in the event of a break-in, fire, or medical emergency.
“Our professional installation requirement depends on the category of the product,” said Comcast Home SVP and GM Dan Herscovici. “Any life-safety device—a smoke detector, door/window sensors, motion sensors—requires a truck roll. Things like door locks and thermostats can be self installed.” Some smart door locks can be programmed to disarm the alarm system, but it’s usually a door/window or motion sensor that triggers the alarm.
Herscovici also said that Comcast can often save new customers money by reusing much of the hardware from an existing system in the home. “We can take over 80 percent of a legacy security system,” Herscovici said. “We can take over the sensors and the control panel, if it’s compatible with our system. If the control panel is not compatible, we can replace it. There’s a flat $99 installation fee for that service. An appointment usually last two to four hours, depending on the complexity of the system. We’ll also warranty the devices after we take them over, and replace them if they fail in the future. The warranty lasts as long as you’re a subscriber.”
There are limits to that offer. “Generally speaking,” Herscovici said, “our philosophy is to be protocol agnostic. We support Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ZigBee, but we are not currently using Z-Wave. We believe ZigBee’s mesh-network infrastructure is a bit more reliable, and ZigBee devices offer better battery life. We’re also participating in the Works with Nest program, but we’re only supporting the thermostat.”
Comcast’s protocol support shouldn’t pose much of a problem for most homeowners who might be interested in switching from their current service provider, because the vast majority of door/window and motion sensors—the most numerous devices in a home-security system—were invented before any of those protocols came along. As such, they’re as common as dirt and Comcast’s hardware should work with them. By the same token, most home-security cameras and thermostats use Wi-Fi.
Lighting controls, on the other hand, could be more problematic—particularly for early adopters—because Z-Wave won a lot of early market share while the ZigBee standard floundered. The ZigBee camp has since gotten its act together and the standard is enjoying a lot of new support. And while Comcast supports Kwikset smart locks, it doesn’t support Yale or Schlage models.
The lack of a doorbell camera is another hole in the Xfinity Home offering, though Herscovici said the company is testing Skybell’s product. Comcast doesn’t support geofencing, either. Some connected-home/home-security systems can automatically disarm your system and turn on your lights when you near your home with smartphone in your pocket, and do the reverse when you leave. And if you’re an Apple fan, Comcast doesn’t support HomeKit. Herscovici said the company was “exploring that possibility for the future, but I think some of the hardware requirements Apple imposed on its partners slowed things down.”
Being a cable-TV company, on the other hand, affords Comcast the opportunity to offer something that most connected-home/home-security providers can’t: Integration into the set-top box connected to your television. In addition to controlling your Xfinity Home system from an Android or iOS app, you can also manage it from your TV, and that includes being able to see the feeds from your security cameras.
Comcast has been in this space for three and half years, and is pricing its Xfinity Home offering aggressively to grow its customer base (Herscovici said the service had half a million subscribers as of last year). A connected-home system costs $20 per month and a connected-home system with home security costs $40 per month, plus the cost of installation. Customers are required to sign two-year contracts, and early-termination fees apply, but the monthly fee does not go up if you add devices to the system.
“We want to encourage our customers to add as many devices as they’d like,” Herscovici said. “We don’t want to create incremental barriers in driving adoption to the mass market.”