Navigant Research Blog

What Amazon’s Acquisition of Ring Means

— April 5, 2018

At the beginning of 2018, I wrote a blog covering Amazon’s Key delivery service, which was introduced to enhance package delivery by allowing couriers access to customer’s homes to ensure safe package delivery regardless of customer availability. Amazon’s latest innovation raised concerns about how far the boundaries of technology can be pushed to make consumers lives more convenient by letting strangers through their front door. Despite this scrutiny, Amazon is pushing ahead with this service through its latest acquisition of Ring, the camera-enabled smart doorbell startup.

Enhancing the Key Service with Ring

Before Amazon’s acquisition of Ring, it relied on the Amazon Cloud Cam, which it developed to release the Key delivery service, and partnerships with existing lock makers. Ring’s doorbells extend this service’s existing capabilities through an additional camera, and through audio equipment that allows customers to chat with delivery people and answer the doorbell remotely. This deal was reportedly worth more than $1 billion, making it the company’s second-largest acquisition behind its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods Market in 2017, which bolstered Amazon’s Fresh food delivery service.

A Message to the Competition

This move—and its acquisition of Whole Foods—not only strengthens the company’s Internet of Things offerings by extending its selection of connected devices, but also sends a message about Amazon’s commitment to business-to-consumer (B2C) services. By enhancing its Key service with Ring, it is more competitive with other tech incumbents engaged in the smart home like Google (which acquired Nest in 2014 and now owns a range of energy and security products), Apple, and Samsung. B2C services are quickly becoming the business model of choice across a variety of industries, and Amazon is one company that is taking it seriously and executing it well.

In the energy industry, Navigant Research has seen a transformation toward this model, as is highlighted in the Energy Cloud 4.0 white paper. Several utilities are already taking steps toward offering B2C services, including Dutch utility Eneco, which offers monthly energy monitoring services to its customers through Quby’s Toon platform. In the security sector, Comcast is increasingly diversifying and shifting toward offering security and automation services in the home to increase revenue (as US consumers drop traditional cable television packages) and customer satisfaction. Not to mention the variety of other service-based businesses that have skyrocketed in popularity, like Uber, Netflix, and Spotify. Once an online retailer, Amazon has become a diverse service-based business, and the company’s acquisition of Ring to support its Key service is a signal to other retailers that it intends to push forward and innovate in the home services space.

 

What Is a Smart Home and How Will It Play a Role in the Energy Cloud?

— November 3, 2017

The concept of a smart home has the potential to revolutionize the way people interact with their homes. Homes that act intuitively and intelligently through smart home systems can enrich consumers’ lives by fostering increased comfort, awareness, convenience, and cost and energy savings. This concept also extends to the role that the home can play in transitioning the grid from traditional centralized generation to the Energy Cloud.

How Do We Define a Smart Home?

However, there is no set definition of a smart home. The industry often uses the terms smart, connected, and automated interchangeably when referring to the Internet of Things (IoT) in the home, though these terms refer to different (albeit related) ideas. Navigant Research believes the concept of a smart home goes beyond the individual devices of a connected home and involves integrated platforms where an ecosystem of interoperable devices is supported by software and services. A truly smart home should be able to act intuitively and automatically, anticipating and responding to the needs of consumers based on learned lifestyle patterns and real-time interaction.

Navigant Research’s View

Navigant Research believes the comprehensiveness and integration of such solutions are the keys to the success of the smart home, as homes that are embedded with smart technologies at their core are more suitable for playing a role in the Energy Cloud. Homes are expected to transform into dynamic assets that balance home energy production and consumption with distributed energy resources, shed load demand through the optimization of more energy efficient products, respond to signals that shift demand to times when the grid is less strained, and generally support a more reliable grid infrastructure.

Market Focus

Currently, the market is focused on the proliferation of connected devices, which are supporting more digitally enabled, connected homes. Consumers are increasingly aware of smart home technologies, with platforms like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit spurring excitement about controlling devices in the home through voice activation and slowly but surely turning the smart home into a reality. These devices are demonstrating value, whether it be for entertainment, health, convenience, security, or energy. The figure below demonstrates the connected hardware in the home that establishes the backbone for comprehensive integrated platforms that support the development of smarter homes.

Connected Hardware in the Home

(Source: Navigant Research)

A Promising Future

There are many obstacles for the smart home market to overcome, such as interoperability, data privacy and security, a lack of embedded technologies in the home, advanced functionality, and connection between smart technologies and the grid. Yet, this market is gaining traction, and smart home solutions are becoming the future of the home and its role in the digital grid. To learn more about the smart home market, check out the recent Navigant Research report, The Smart Home.

 

Security Proves to Be a Strong Proposition for the Smart Home

— October 17, 2017

Nest has long been known as the Google-backed consumer products company responsible for the innovative and sleek Nest Learning Thermostat. The company has had a fairly limited selection of consumer products for years. It only expanded upon its original thermostat with the Nest Protect smoke detector in 2013 and the Nest Indoor and Outdoor Cams in 2015 and 2016 to bring its total portfolio to four wholly original devices.

Because the company is slow to unveil new products, any hardware releases from Nest are major news. So when Nest announced six new products last week, it made a big splash in the consumer electronics industry. However, the sheer volume of products in this latest announcement is not the most significant part of this news. Rather, it’s the fact that these products are all security related.

Smart Technology Adoption Is Increasing

Nest’s new product rollout emphasizes the growing importance of security as a value proposition for the adoption of smart home technologies. In the United States, consumers are adopting smart technologies through security providers to help increase awareness of what is going on in their homes and feel more secure and protected.

Security systems no longer include only an alarm system and sensors that monitor when a home’s perimeter is breached, but also include connected cameras, door locks, door bells, and garage door openers. These devices create an ecosystem that monitors the home in and out and can help optimize and automate the operations of a home.

Comcast’s Security Offerings

Nest isn’t the only company engaging in the smart home space through security. Comcast has increasingly become involved in the smart home space through its Xfinity Home security service. The company has invested in home automation through its acquisition of iControl and its partnership with Whisker Labs and is utilizing its existing infrastructure and resources to move further into the security and home automation business.

These moves allow Comcast to create new streams of revenue as some of its traditional business models come under threat, like its cable TV business. Vivint Smart Home is another company offering home security and automation products and services, and already has a video monitoring package similar to what Nest has just announced, alongside a suite of other smart technologies likes its Element smart thermostat.

Value Propositions and Consumer Benefits

There are many different value propositions for the smart home outside of security, including energy, comfort and convenience, automation, and health and wellness. The home energy management space was one of the first to introduce smart home technologies, including smart thermostats, but now there are different value propositions for smart home technologies by region. In the United States, security has prevailed, while energy is still the most popular in Europe.

These value propositions help demonstrate to consumers the benefits of smart technologies and how they can significantly affect their lives. Smart technologies for security can help consumers protect themselves and their families, and energy devices can help consumers save money on their energy bills and contribute to a greener planet. This helps drive the adoption of smart technologies and push the concept of a smart home closer to reality.

 

As Security Threats to IoT Grow, So Do New Solutions and Regulations

— October 10, 2017

Good reasons abound for concerns about the vulnerability of the electric grid to cyber attacks. Likewise, enterprises must confront serious security risks as a growing number of firms adopt industrial IoT (IIoT) technologies. Consumers risk potential hacks as they install IoT gadgets such as smart thermostats or voice-activated devices like Amazon’s Echo in their homes.

Scary Stories

Recent stories paint a dark picture of these risks. A story about Industroyer—a modular malware likened to the notorious Stuxnet worm—sends a sobering message. The story’s author, Robert Lipovsky, says, “Industroyer poses a big threat to industrial systems because it doesn’t exploit any vulnerabilities,” and that its four payload components “are designed to gain direct control of switches and circuit breakers at an electricity distribution substation.” Also, the malware can be reconfigured to attack other energy infrastructures and other industries like manufacturing or transportation.

In the broader realm of well-known Bluetooth technology, the story is much the same. An IoT security firm called Armis has uncovered critical flaws in Bluetooth implementations that could affect up to 5.3 billion devices. The Armis researchers have named this threat vector BlueBorne. So far, nothing untoward has been reported in terms of hacks, and Armis is working with Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Linux developers to quietly coordinate the release of patches to stop potential attacks. But left unchecked, attackers could theoretically take over Bluetooth devices or commandeer their Internet traffic.

Products to Protect against Threats

Despite these ominous stories, technology vendors have new products aimed at reducing security threats. Intel, for example, has a new process called Secure Device Onboarding to ensure a more secure deployment of connected devices for enterprises. The idea is to help industrial customers safely and quickly install IoT devices, such as lighting, sensors, and gateways. The company is working across the ecosystem to help push this new level of security and boost IoT adoption.

Similarly, Cisco is touting enhanced routers for utility customers with security at their core. Executives from Cisco report that security is top of mind for utility and other enterprise customers in the face of the latest cyber threats, and the company is responding to this this demand.

Policy Adaptation

Elected officials in the United States also see the threat to IoT devices, and are pushing new legislation. A bipartisan group of senators has proposed a new IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017, which is still working its way toward approval. The law, if enacted, could be one more key driver toward a safer IoT and IIoT world.

In the face of potential IoT-related threats, it might be easy to see only the dark side. To be sure, connected devices are more vulnerable than non-connected ones. Nonetheless, leading IoT vendors, their customers, and even legislators are taking real steps to hinder harmful attacks. This means that the situation has a bright side, too.

 

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