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Comcast Wants to Turn Xfinity Into an ‘Internet of Things’ Smart-Home Platform

Comcast is looking to turn Xfinity broadband into a kind of “home operating system,” promising to bring home-automation controls for hundreds of devices to Xfinity Internet customers at no extra cost.

The cable giant unveiled the new “Works With Xfinity” home-automation partner program at CES 2018 on Wednesday, showing off different ways it plans to let Xfinity customers use its TV and broadband services to control devices in a Wi-Fi-connected home. For example, a Comcast customer could use the X1 voice remote to say, “Good night” — and the system would automatically lock all the doors, turn off lights, adjust thermostats, and arm the home-security system.

The goal, for Comcast, is to get embedded into customers’ homes through the different IoT devices and provide useful features so they’ll be less likely to switch providers.

“It’s another value of being an internet customer,” said Matt Strauss, Comcast Cable’s EVP of Xfinity services. “We see X1 as a platform… where in many ways we see the television as just being a screen for interacting with other devices in your home.”

Comcast offers some home-automation features already with its Xfinity Home security service, which has about 1 million customers. What’s different with the new program is that Comcast is decoupling automation from security: The new IoT features will be available to all 15 million of the cable operator’s broadband internet customers.

The IoT program keys off xFi, which provides a digital dashboard to set up their home Wi-Fi network, find their password, see what devices are connected, troubleshoot issues, set parental controls and manage other features. The xFi wireless gateways can be controlled via a mobile app, website and on the TV with the X1 voice remote. According to Comcast, since it was launched in May 2017, more than 4 million customers have used the new service.

Comcast also is tapping into the capabilities of Stringify, a tech startup it acquired in September 2017 that provides a network-based automation service that can connect with more than 500 IoT products and digital services.

The cable operator said Stringify’s technology will soon be integrated into Xfinity’s products and services, to let customers create and use rules and controls for device brands including August, Carrier, Chamberlain, ecobee, GE, Honeywell, Kwikset, Liftmaster, LIFX, Lutron, Nest, Netgear Arlo, Philips Hue, Danalock, Sengled, SkyBell, Tile, Yale, and Zen Ecosystems.

“For customers to on-board all these IoT devices will be daunting, and then you have all these separate apps,” Strauss said. “We have this ability to create these experiences and do it in a really automated way.”

The new Xfinity IoT features will be launching with third-party devices toward the end of the first quarter of 2018, according to Strauss.

Those will extend various smart-home features Comcast has already rolled out. For example, Phone Finder is a new feature that enables Xfinity Mobile customers to search for and locate their mobile phone in their home using the X1 voice remote. In addition, Comcast recently added enhanced features to Xfinity Home security cameras that detects activity at a customer’s front door: The system can automatically identify movement, center on the subject, and send an image the app to let users know who’s at their abode.

In the future, Comcast envisions extending the Works With Xfinity partner program to include other product categories such as wearables, automotive, voice assistants, email, and social-media platforms.

And Strauss foresees potential content integrations possible with the IoT platform. For example, if you set a wakeup alarm for the following morning, the Xfinity system could be programmed to send top stories from, say, the New York Times to your smartphone or display tomorrow’s weather on the TV at that time, he said.

For the most part Comcast’s deals with third-party manufacturers and service providers for the Works With Xfinity amount to technical integrations (with no money changing hands). Any revenue Comcast may derive from offering premium services or features through the smart-home system would be “de minimis,” according to Strauss. “That’s not the driving force. It really is about scaling IoT faster and creating a viable ecosystem on our platform.”

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