Web-Based Home Control: Cheap and Easy

Web-based home monitoring isn't just for geeks anymore. New services make set-up and management a snap.


You may think that controlling your home’s thermostat from your home office computer is a geek thing, but how about controlling that same thermostat from your cell phone when you’re away on a two-week vacation? If you left and forgot to turn off the air conditioner, you can log on, make a change and save a ton of money.

With almost 40 million homes in the United States now having broadband Internet access, we are beginning to see a range of new broadband services for the home. In the area of home control, a home gateway can be installed to monitor and control several discrete devices. These devices can include cameras, door sensors, lighting controls and thermostats — just to name a few — and they can be handled from any PC or cell phone inside or outside the home.

A number of companies offer these home control products, including Motorola with its line of Homesight products, Control 4 with its home control and audio/video products, and Home Automation Inc. with its suite of control and security products.

But of all the companies offering home control solutions, only one is focused on remote control access and monitoring. iControl Networks, which launched its goods and services this past May, provides a suite of easily installed home control products that communicate their status from a gateway inside the home to iControl’s Web server portal. The elegance of iControl’s solution is that the status and control of the home is accomplished via a private server portal that a homeowner can access from anywhere in the world through a computer or phone. (You use your own unique login and password to enter.)

iControl does not require the user to load software onto a home computer because the devices are not communicating or controlled by a computer. All the communication and control occurs through the iControl wireless gateway, over the home’s broadband Internet connection to the iControl Web-hosting server. This feature makes the iControl system extremely reliable and robust, as it is not dependent on the stability of any computer operating system platform or a computer that has to be left on for the home control system to be operational. It also makes the service very easy to use from any Internet-connected platform, because the home status and control can be reviewed from any computer or Web-enabled cell phone or personal digital assistant platform.

Think of iControl as a home control service provider. You pay a monthly fee of $14.95, and you get private access to your home’s portal that allows you to control your lights and thermostats or even know if someone has entered a front or back door, thanks to iControl’s sensors and motion detectors.

Who knows: If a company like Google or Yahoo decided to add an iControl remote home control service to its ever-expanding base of portal offerings, the service could become advertising based, and those who would like to have remote access to their homes could easily launch private password-protected Google or Yahoo home control portals for free! The only cost would be the nominal price of the wireless control devices installed in your home.

Given the interest portal players have in increasing their portfolios, it’s clear that remote control home services are bound to be offered to the mass market in the near future. Reliable, easy to use and easy to implement products like those from iControl bring these services much closer to reality. Imagine the peace of mind of being able to monitor an elderly parent who is living alone, simply by going to your private Web portal and checking the status of motion detection devices or getting an email update to your cell phone. That’s a service for which I would gladly pay $14.95 a month.

Gordon van Zuiden is the founder and president of cyberManor: www.cybermanor.com.


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