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January 22, 2020

Why consumers need to think twice about smart home services

By GlobalData Technology

Charter Communications’ decision to shutter its home-security service next month is yet another cautionary tale from the emerging smart home services segment. This is not the first time consumers have been told their investments in home security and automation devices were for naught.

Charter, which operates services under the Spectrum brand, is the second-largest U.S. cable operator. It has grown through acquisition, buying Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016 and inheriting the home security business as part of those deals. However, Charter quickly stopped actively marketing it but continued supporting existing users.

Time called on some smart home services

Now, however, the grim reaper has arrived. Once the shutdown occurs on February 5, the Spectrum Home Security app on users’ smart phones will cease to work. Also affected will be a bevy of devices that it formerly supported, including smart cameras, lights, door locks and thermostats. Many devices will become ‘bricks,’ offering little functionality other than serving as high-tech paperweights and doorstops. Fortunately for users willing to get creative, it appears some of the gadgets, which rely upon the Zigbee communications protocol, might be restorable via factory resets, enabling them to be controlled by another smart home hub using standard Zigbee technology.

Nonetheless, customers who had set up their home security and smart home gadgets just the way they wanted are now being sent back to the drawing board . They can either figure these out on their own or take Charter up on offers it is making to steer them to new service subscriptions – and device purchases – with Amazon Ring and Abode.

When the shutters fall

The situation is reminiscent of other smart home debacles, which should make consumers think twice about the smart home services and devices they spend money on. For example, some fans of Nest smart home devices were wary of Google’s 2014 acquisition of Nest. Their fears were realized in 2019, when Google announced a new Google Nest brand and later shuttered the developer program behind the ‘Works with Nest’ smart home platform. That initially meant third-party smart home devices that integrated with Nest products would lose access, unless developers released updates to make those products compatible with the ‘Works with Google Assistant’ platform. However, after much criticism, Google pledged that a Nest customer’s existing devices and integrations would continue working with their Nest Account, even after Works with Nest ceased to exist.

Yet previous to that, in 2016, Google completely shuttered another nascent smart home platform when it integrated technology from Revolv – another startup it had acquired – into Nest’s smart home platform, entirely disabling Revolv smart hubs.

Given the early stage of smart home technologies, it is not surprising that yet another situation has arisen where early adopters of home security and automation solutions are being forced onto other platforms and left with unusable devices. Charter’s scuttling of its smart home service is just another sign of the times. The embryonic smart home segment will continue being marked by change as companies switch technological directions, get acquired or close their doors.