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World’s Collide: Phones and Home Automation

by in Telecom

A Man’s home is his castle laboratory. My last post was about phones needing more apps – and here is a great one for the home.

There are two things I believe every home should have – home automation and a PBX. However, my opinion (in this case) does not reflect the opinion of the majority. Both resi-PBX systems and home automation rise and fall in popularity, but never penetrate the mainstream.

My home automation system is produced by HAI. It has sensors and control over numerous items in my home. Many of its tasks are fully automated or triggered by events such as ‘sunset’, Some activities require manual control such as the music system.

System control is done through a wall unit, a desktop computer, or a cell phone app. Recently, HAI and NEC announced an integration that enables phones on the NEC DSX phone system. This means that room phones can act as control units. Genius.

The DSX system seems reasonably appropriate as a resi-PBX. The DSX is a digital key system with optional IP capabilities. It is more reasonable as a resi-PBX than my Digium Switchvox SMB UC solution which is way over-the-top for a home. Home users don’t really need much in a phone system – key-system line appearances, paging, intercom, and simple non unified voice mail will meet most residential requirements.

As much as I like a PBX in the home, the PBX vendors and dealers aren’t so sure. Homeowners are terrible PBX customers because they don’t really value features and aren’t likely to pay for maintenance or buy high-end phones and options. Resi-PBX sales boil down to price. Factor in surprises with resi-wiring, difficult access to wires, and higher liabilities and you can see why dealers too generally avoid the resi-market.

For NEC dealers, this integration may not be compelling enough to get into home automation. Althought it would be nice to to sell in that market not based on price alone, I don’t get the impression the DSX is very strategic for NEC. It didn’t come up at the recent NEC Advantage conference. Most likely ongoing DSX sales are not  targeted to NEC Unified’s primary channel. Although I am sure some dealers will find it a natural extension of their business from SMB.

Now for the home automation dealer the integration represents a much stronger opportunity. They are already in the home and dealing with the wiring. Phone systems are expensive, but so are control panels. An automation dealer can up-sell a phone system and deliver significant value with it (a controller in every room, with paging, intercom, and voice calling!). These dealers are not telephony oriented, so a basic key system digital solution is a good channel fit.
Home automation on a phonetop makes a lot of sense. The next stage of evolution should be a more universal approach via an IP phone’s browser – subsequently followed by an hosted offering. The hosted offering would be just the interface – the controller would remain in the home.


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  • Tony No-One

    While I don't agree with much of your take on the HAI/NEC jntegration being a good fit in the home, I see where it may sometimes be a good fit in light commercial or small office environments. Home automation is all about the interface and you don't get much uglier or kludgy than then NEC phone's menu driven interface. Commercial envoronments would, however, benefit from a unified device from which you can speak with your clients, unlock the front door and disarm the security system. In other words, in a small office setting there are efficiencies to be had in a single point of contact for control and communication.

  • David

    Tony, I think your missing the value. Sure the interface is not elegant like a touchscreen but it's not like you need to try and make it control the TV. Rather make it very targeted with a few highly useful features.

    Secondly, with higher end phones that have large color displays it could become even more.

  • Emily

    I've enjoyed the HAI/NEC integration in my home since NEC's first beta release. I, too, was skeptical about its value, thinking for sure it was just another one of those geek things my husband would find cool, but that I wouldn't have much use for…until I started living with it.
    I can now easily check the temperature in the kids' rooms from the phone on my nightstand, so I know if I need to cover them up or turn off their window air conditioners before I go to bed. Sure, I could just walk into their rooms and look at the stats, but home automation is all about making life easier, even if we could survive without it.
    We also have a button setup to show status of our garage lights, which we have a tendency to leave on. At a glance, I can see if the lights are on, and with the press of a button, turn them off from the kitchen or the bedroom, with instant confirmation that the load was switched off.
    From the kitchen phone I can easily mute the driveway sensor when I get a call from someone who's on their way over. The "Alert Mute" button on our phone triggers an HAI button to mute the keypad beeps…no barking dog waking up napping kids in my house!
    Lastly, I absolutely love the outdoor temp display on the phone's home screen.
    The HAI/NEC integration gives us convenient control over our house from the areas where we spend the majority of our time, without cluttering up our walls with additional keypads or interfaces. I agree that it could be a very easy sell for small offices, but don't discount the convenience and value that it brings to an automated home.

  • Tony No-One

    I don't think I am missing the value. I have been in the field* for a great many years and know quite well how the typical user interacts with their automation system. HAI's paradigm of scrolling through lists only to be returned to a "main" page (a poor design decision evidently once again reproduced with the NEC integration) is a very kludgy, unintuitive way to interact with your home. Don't get me wrong, HAI is my recommendation for an automation platform. However, I rarely leave a client with ANY (ridiculously expensive) front end produced by them. In other words, I add value by not subjecting my clients to such poor UIs as the NEC phone.

    *by field, I mean that literally and figuratively. Unlike Emily (who's profile is linked to Worthington, a shill for HAI who have never tolerated any criticism of HAIs product no matter how bad certain SKUs perform…cough…cough..wireless, humidity sensors, etc.), I am a dealer, in "the trenches", providing installs and getting real time feedback from end users.

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