Why ADT wants to take Command of your smart home

This legacy security company has a plan to solve the smart home's problems

ADT's Command & Control
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The promise of a truly unified smart home, where all your connected devices just work with each other - without the need for 17 apps, 4 different hubs, and endless weekends troubleshooting why your smart light won’t turn on when you open the door - is still largely unfulfilled.

Could the solution be putting our smart homes in the hands of home security companies?

That’s what ADT is betting on. The legacy security company is going all-in on the smart home with its new Command and Control system. First announced at CES in January and rolling out this year, the wireless system – powered by Alarm.com software – replaces the company’s ten-year-old Pulse product and is designed to be the hub of your smart home.

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But can a 140-year-old company really succeed in unifying the smart home, when giants like Apple, Amazon, and Google are still struggling?

To date, smart home security has been the tortoise in the smart home race, slowly creeping up on the big names in the space, who are often distracted by shiny objects such as voice control, flashy ways to play music, and speakers that recognize your face. But ADT thinks that what people really want in their homes is to be safe.

Why ADT wants to take Command of your smart home

The secure smart home

Home security has helped drive mainstream adoption of smart home devices – with Ring’s hugely popular video doorbell leading the charge. Regular people love this device both for the convenience it brings and the peace of mind.

The success of startups like Simplisafe, Abode (founded by former ADT exec Chris Carney), Scout, and many others, also proves this. And as these systems push further into the smart home - all starting with sensors and cameras but most moving into locks, lights, and other household appliances - a picture of the secure smart home begins to emerge.

ADT wants to take Command of your smart home

“We're transitioning away from a security-driven lifestyle solution to a lifestyle-driven security system,” Tim Rader, Director of Product Development at ADT, told The Ambient. That’s the main purpose behind Command and Control to merge security and home comfort into one.

The system offers the standard smart home features like scenes and automations that you'll also get with ecosystems such as HomeKit and SmartThings, plus the “security” that comes with professional 24/7 monitoring.

With a Command and Control setup in your home you can create scenes for both security and comfort. Have your security system disarm when you unlock your smart door lock, and have lights turn on and your heating adjust as you walk in. If your door is left open for too long have your air conditioning turn off; a 'good night' scene can lock the house down and arm your system.

Coming soon, according to Rader, is integration with Sonos speakers, Lutron – so you can control shades and lights, and Rainbird to manage underground sprinkler systems.

The company is also experimenting with Bluetooth disarming, and its new 7-inch touchscreen Command control panel can take a picture of whomever disarms the system. And of course everything is accessible through the Control app, with Alexa on offer too.

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Command and Control also uses geofencing to trigger scenes (for the smart home stuff, not the security component – no one wants their alarm system to disarm just because they got too close to home on their way to the grocery store, says Rader).

We're transitioning away from a security-driven lifestyle solution to a lifestyle-driven security system

“You can see that we're doing things outside of that traditional space and not even necessarily in home management, but taking it further,” says Rader. “The goal is to be the solution for the whole home.”

“We're also working on some other initiatives I can't really talk about yet. What other things might you want ADT to manage… maybe your Wi-Fi network?” hints Rader. This would help ensure important services, such as security video got bandwidth priority over Suzie watching Netflix, for example, Rader adds.

While none of this is new in the smart home, having both security and automation under the control of one system is still something of a rarity. But it likely won't stay that way for long.

ADT wants to take Command of your smart home

Tackling hackers

Most interestingly, when looking at ADT’s offerings, is its focus on cyber security. “Being a security minded company, we have a strong focus on cyber security and customer privacy,” says Rader.

All of the new wireless sensors that are part of Command and Control have two-way encryption, and all audio and video communications are encrypted from the camera to the server, as well on the server.

“We see a lot of new entries into the space from a lifestyle perspective that maybe aren't as robust as they should be from a cybersecurity perspective,” Rader says. “I mean, the last thing I want to see is anything related to hacking ADT on YouTube.”

ADT wants to take Command of your smart home

Tight security equals a walled garden however, another ongoing smart home struggle. And while ADT's new 7-inch touchscreen Command control panel is packed with enough radios to turn any smart home hub green with envy (LTE, broadband, ADT’s proprietary protocol, two Wi-Fi radios, Z-Wave 700 series support, Bluetooth, and Alexa built-in) you’re limited in which devices you can add to the system.

Anything on the life-safety side – sensors, cameras - have to be ADT’s brand (manufactured by Honeywell Home/Resideo). According to Rader this is all so ADT can keep these critical aspects of the security system locked down.

The last thing I want to see is anything related to hacking ADT on YouTube

On the smart home side, it uses Z-Wave products, and while you can add your own devices, ADT recommends - strongly - that you use its certified products.

“We have a group of engineers that are subject matter experts that test every product we certify,” says Rader. “Plus, we use cyber security experts. We won't even begin to look a product in our engineering test lab until it’s gone through a cyber security vendor.”

This basically means ADT is doing the hard work of figuring out which smart home devices are relatively safe – the flip side though is a much more limited selection than just freewheeling your smart home gadgets.

ADT wants to take Command of your smart home

Professional versus DIY

ADT certainly needs to innovate in the face of growing competition from those much less expensive DIY security systems, which offer the same services minus - in most cases - professional installation and long term contracts. However, the number of DIY security systems installed in the US still pales in comparison to the number of professionally installed ones.

While ADT's core business is professional install, it recently purchased DIY wireless security solution LifeShield, bundling it with ADT's professional monitoring, a feature that ADT thinks makes it stand out from the competition.

Bob Kupbens, a former Apple exec and ADT's new President of Innovation and New Business, feels ADT's history and extensive network of call centers actually give it the edge in both spaces. “There's a difference between monitoring and professional monitoring with 143 years of history," he told The Ambient. "Our call centers are staffed with highly-trained professionals with the experience to immediately understand when it's time to call first responders,” he says.

They also have the tools to pass data directly to authorities - including video and audio recordings of alarm events (with your permission) - in order to speed up response times. ADT offers video verification services through its monitoring package – something increasingly being required by emergency services before they will respond, and something only a handful of its DIY competitors do.

Who do you trust to be in your home more than more than ADT?

ADT's vast infrastructure obviously adds to its costs, which is passed on to consumers. An ADT system is not cheap - the company wouldn’t give us exact numbers, but monthly monitoring tops out at $52.99 per month, you pay upfront for equipment and installation, and you are locked into a 36 month contract. And, as with high-end home automation systems like Control4, you have to call ADT every time you want to install or change pretty much anything (although ADT says a future update will allow customers to add Z-Wave devices themselves).

Many of its competitors cite their nimbleness as a factor in how they undercut the bigger guys' pricing. They don't have to roll trucks to customers' homes, for example.

However ADT's network of dealers and installers does give it an edge in terms of getting the word out to mainstream consumers about the benefits of this new smart home technology.

The company, with its 7 million subscribers across the U.S and Canada, offers a natural conduit for people interested in expanding their home security into home automation, but who don’t feel comfortable installing the gear themselves.

As the smart home moves beyond early adopters to the mainstream, these are the people who will drive the space forward, and most of them don’t want to spend their weekends installing motion sensors.

“Who do you trust to be in your home more than more than ADT?” says Kupbens. “As consumers are starting to think about the evolution of the home and all these internet of things devices coming together, it's very natural that ADT would start to expand our offering and our customer experience to include those things.”

Whether ADT can succeed in producing a smart home system to rival the Apples, Amazons, and SmartThings in the space, remains to be seen. And while it will most likely stay competitive in the home security space its owned for over a century - even as more nimble companies nip at its heels - innovation and unification in the smart home is ultimately good for everyone.

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