Telstra is making a play for the home automation market with the introduction of its Smart Home kits – a move that is causing some mixed emotions within the industry. Jacob Harris investigates.
The Telstra Smart Home represents the telco giant’s initial offering in the home automation market and is comprised of two kits: ‘Watch and Monitor’ and ‘Automation and Energy’. The kits are designed to be retrofit, DIY products that include basic elements such as smart bulbs, thermostats and power plugs connected to a Smart Home Hub. The kits are sold as part of a contract with a 24 month minimum term.
“We think home automation and the connectivity of things within the home is a great experience for our customers and a growth area within the [telecommunications] industry. We’ve launched our first two smart home kits which are based around the Telstra Smart Home Hub,” says Telstra Home and Premium Services executive director John Chambers.
“Automation and Energy includes smart plugs and sensors that enable users to trigger actions and turn things on and off around the home based on movement and the like. Watch and Monitor has a camera which allows you to watch what’s going on at home but also trigger a whole bunch of automations – doors opening and closing and moving in the home.”
Telstra sees the kits as the first step on a path into the smart home market. With plans to expand its offering to include pre-installed systems, the company is working with the building industry to look at embedding Telstra Home in new buildings.
“We want to bring the right set of features and hardware together to make sure that customers can build their homes Telstra Home-ready – instead of putting it in with retrofit plugs afterwards – that’s the next part of the journey for us. We do really see ourselves being available to every home no matter what its needs. Obviously there are high-end integrators out there who are very expensive but we’re really trying to make an affordable package for every Australian household so they can get the best of the IoT at rates they would say are quite affordable,” says John.
While there are mixed emotions about Telstra’s business practices within industry, there seems to be a general consensus that they’ll be catering to a different client base than the average integrator – these are essentially DIY, IoT products sold on a contract. That said, the industry’s positivity towards the telco’s foray into home automation remains at a minimum.
“Our dealings with Telstra of late have been appalling to say the least. We’ve seen Telstra franchises and the so-called Telstra Business Centre simply sell customers a service and shut the door – leaving them to deal with a variety of overseas call centres. Hearing that they are now entering the Smart Home market sends shivers down my spine,” says Automated Innovation director Nathan Gill.
While Nathan’s exasperation is understandable, home automation is a fast-growing segment making it (arguably) only a matter of time before companies like Telstra jump on the automation band wagon. With a footprint in so many Australian homes already, it’s little wonder they’re looking to expand their offering.
“The interest in automation, automated home security and energy in particular is really starting to grow in the Australian population so we think it’s something our customers will want – we also think we’re quite well positioned to provide the service. We can put service people into every home in Australia; we’ve got great contact centres and sales channels. But ultimately we think it fits really well into an end-to-end experience with Telstra,” John says.
“There are a whole bunch of variables that we think we can control for the customer to make sure they’re getting a great experience that other providers will have difficulty controlling. We think it’s a really good sweet spot for us with our service layer our sales channels and obviously the millions of customer relationships we’ve already got in Australia.”
Telstra is among a number of large companies becoming more vocal about home automation but by all accounts, it’s a very different world to the one the average integrator works in.
“Telstra’s offering is all about the individual devices – rather than how they work together,” says JFK Automation general manager Mark Nettleton.
“Companies like Telstra can come to market with hardware, they can talk about the connected home but in reality, what we’re doing is creating an experience for our clients – truly integrating the technology to make things happen automatically without them even thinking about it. Creating simplicity from complexity: the engineering behind our systems is very complex but the reason we do that is to give the client simplicity. And from what I can gauge, the likes of Telstra at the moment don’t understand that – they don’t really get it.”
The Smart Home Hub is a closed system that uses the Zigbee protocol. Although, according to John, the company plans to keep an open mind in regard to using multiple standards in the future – and they’re taking a similar stance on the range of devices on offer. In fact, it would appear the only thing that Telstra is sure of is that they want a nice big slice of the smart home pie.
“We see this as a long journey. This is very early days for the smart home space but it’s something that our customers are increasingly getting very excited about. Our role within that that we see is one of just making it really easy. There are a lot of early adopters out there playing with bits and pieces, trying to connect it all together and that will always be the case. We are really passionate about every Australian being able to use this technology really simply and just have it always work and we’ll be there just making sure it’s safe and secure giving them a service layer.”
Integrators who are worried about what the telco’s entry into the market will do to their business should take solace in the knowledge that Telstra’s client demographic will differ substantially from their own. And what’s more, in an industry plagued by a lack of public awareness and understanding, products like the Telstra Smart Home can help to raise awareness and may very well act as a ‘gateway drug’ to the world of custom integration.
“Telstra may be going about it the wrong way but they’re certainly not the enemy. They’re just going about it in their way which is very different to the services we offer. Some people might delight in the fact they’ll be able to switch their fridge on and off with their iPhone or save a bit of energy on their tv by having a timer associated with it but in reality they’re not achieving the same things that we’re able to offer our clients,” Mark says.
“If Telstra brings more awareness to smart technology and what it’s capable of, then I guess that could be a good thing because it gets people interested. The only risk to us is that if people follow the Telstra way and they believe that that is what a smart home is – they may not even understand that we exist and there is that next level.