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US broadband operators go OTT over home automation

You might not believe how long the 'home automation' market has been ready for take off. So long that I expect Charles Babbage could see the possibilities of an automatic candle snuffer as he oiled his Difference Engine. If so he may have been the first, but certainly not the last, in a long, long line.

One such came into the office of the publication i was working for in about 1983 with a computer-controlled box full of switches. This was, remember, the era of hobby computing when it was naturally expected that a computer enthusiast would whip out a soldering iron and do the necessary when required, so the idea that you might program (I don't mean configure) your own home automation set-up wasn't as outlandish as it would seem today.

At the time I could see how it could work - I just wasn't convinced that very many people (not even computer nuts) would be bothered to do it. I can draw my own curtains at sundown, thanks very much.

And so it still is today, although the nomenclature has now changed to an 'Internet of things' application. Now that your smartphone has made you more mobile, the idea of triggering domestic processes while on the move (rather than, as in 1983, programming them in before you left the house) is where it's at. So the tasks are simiular, the supposed interface has changed from PC to smartphone.

Having done the skeptical 'been there, done that' intro it's clear that specific use cases, if they're easy to trigger and involve only marginal extra expenditure, will likely do a bit of a take-off, even if only as a fad.

And I call in evidence the teasmade? There's home automation, right there, and probably millions were sold, but after the novelty had worn off, nobody bought them as presents any more (I think male present-buying was their engine) and I can sense that half of those reading this don't know what a teasmade is.

Home automation may be a path to the geeky gadget but of course there are also useful, non-gadgety applications as well as faddy ones. Home security systems are a natural (although not, to my mind strictly home automation) and then once you have broadband and security you - as a householder - can probably add others if they appeal to you.

So what do we see today. You guessed it. It's poised again and telcos, as ever, think it's their natural territory.

Perhaps it is. According to Infomatics Research 'over-the-top' home automation services are gaining real popularity with service providers in the US. That's the key snippet from the firm's recently launched 2013 Home Automation Service Strategies: Global Service Provider Survey.

It's found that over 70 per cent of the operators participating in its survey will offer home automation services by the end of 2013. In doing that broadband providers are increasingly competing with established home security companies.

"One of the more interesting trends we're seeing in the home automation market is the concept of a provider offering services to end customers over another operator's broadband connection," says report author Jeff Heynen, principal analyst for broadband access and pay TV at Infonetics Research. "Verizon has been experimenting with trials of over-the-top (OTT) home automation services as a way to secure revenue from out-of-market customers."

In other words, while it might be fighting net neutrality tooth and claw in Washington, out in the suburbs Verizon and other broadband providers are is quite happy to take advantage of it to extend its services over other carriers' broadband access lines.

And why not? We've long held the view at TelecomTV that big telcos would eventually swap positions on this and see neutrally-managed Internet access as the only way even the largest can compete at scale with Internet-based competitors.

Infonetics says the OTT route is being picked up by many more telcos after Verizon showed the way. On its projections, "by 2015, the percentage of operators offering OTT home automation services more than doubles," Heynen reports. "With Verizon functioning as the guinea pig for out-of-market and over-the-top home automation services, other operators clearly believe these services can be delivered outside their incumbent markets."

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