AT&T (NYSE: T) is the latest service provider to join the home automation movement. The company has acquired Xanboo, one of the original platform developers for remote home management.
The acquisition follows a flurry of M&A activity in the smart-home industry.
Last week, Motorola announced it would acquire 4Home, presumably to bring energy management, security and other home control capabilities to cable customers by way of modems and settop boxes.
That deal followed continued investment by Verizon in the 4Home business.
Two similar home automation platform providers, iControl and uControl, announced a merger last month. We surmised that the move was required to nab Comcast’s new Home Security business.
And in 2008, Sigma Designs, which provides audio/video chipsets to most of the leading cable providers, bought Zensys, provider of Z-Wave wireless technology for home control.
As with all of these deals, AT&T probably hopes to hold onto its TV, Internet and mobile phone subscribers by offering new services for their existing products—and charge some extra fees to boot.
Xanboo technology enables users to remotely monitor and manage their home’s security, lighting, thermostats and other devices via the Internet, cellphone and other communications devices. Like iControl, uControl and 4Home, Xanboo has developed its own products in the past, but always intended to market its platform to third-party service providers.
AT&T and Xanboo: Long-Time Partners
Nothing official about the Xanboo acquisition has been released, and AT&T officials have not yet been available for comment.
McCall Butler, a spokesperson from AT&T’s PR company, does confirm the acquisition to Electronic House. His formal statement to us is this:
AT&T sees synergies between Xanboo’s technology and our offerings for consumers and small businesses. Xanboo’s monitoring services are a natural extension of our high speed Internet, video and voice offerings and a good fit for our wireless services.
This statement echoes the same sentiment of AT&T’s 2006 press release, announcing its adoption of Xanboo technology for a “new generation of converged, IP-based services.”:
 Ultimately, AT&T will use this unified network to enable virtually seamless connectivity anywhere, anytime, on almost any device, giving consumers what they want, when they want it, wherever they are. Increasingly, services will be accessible from any of the “three screens” that many consumers value most: the TV, PC and cell phone.
AT&T offered basic Xanboo service to Cingular customers back then. The products included Xanboo’s Internet gateway and proprietary RF wireless devices – primarily cameras and security sensors, with a handful of other devices such as lamp modules and environmental sensors.
The interface was fairly rudimentary, allowing access via the PC, a Cingular wireless phone or an Internet-enabled PDA with Java.
At the time, AT&T offered a very basic package for $199 plus $9.95 per month.
The program was short-lived and Electronic House never encountered any success stories with the offering.
In fact, in our 16 years of covering the home automation industry, we have never encountered any success stories of remote home management systems that require a monthly fee – unless that fee is an add-on to a security service a la ADT Pulse.
When Xanboo hit the scene in the early 2000s (the company was founded in 1999) there were already several established home-control vendors and many promising startups.
But Xanboo had one particular claim to fame: its cloud-based home automation architecture.
Xanboo was a pioneer of the lightweight Internet Gateway for home control, eventually utilizing the Java-centric Open Services Gateway Initiative (OSGi) platform.
Other providers generally required PCs or relatively pricey controllers to deliver the type of rich, interactive communications that Xanboo offered.
Xanboo, on the other hand, sold very inexpensive gateways to the consumer, offloading the heavy processing to the company’s own servers.
The downside to the architecture is that it requires a monthly fee to maintain the servers, and history shows that mainstream consumers are not willing to pay monthly fees for home control alone (which is why Xanboo and others have not succeeded at retail).
The new Xanboo is much different today. While it had one of the weaker home control interfaces in the early days, today’s UI is elegant and the platform is much more flexible – right on par with its competitors at iControl, uControl and 4Home
Motorola, AT&T and Lantronix are among Xanboo’s early investors. In fact, Motorola has marketed retailer-oriented Xanboo systems for several years. The product, called HomeSight, is still available online. A Xanboo-based solution from Shell, the ill-fated HomeGenie, also was marketed for a brief time.
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Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.