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Brand awareness needed for smart home technology to establish foothold

Wednesday, October 29th 2014 by Ellen Branagh

The smart home industry needs a brand that unites all of the different elements it draws on, according to a UK entrepreneur.

Philip Steele, founder of smart home platform nCube, told Cable.co.uk that telecoms companies have typically failed at “value-added services”, particularly in the UK and Europe.

Mr Steele, whose system focuses on energy-saving, said unless a brand can draw in partnerships between all of the elements that touch the smart home – from telecoms to alarms, and entertainment to utilities – they would potentially all try to compete for the same product.

He said: “If you look at smart home products, they overlap telecoms, energy, utilities, alarm companies, and even entertainment.

“Telecoms companies typically failed at any value-added services, so voiceover IP services, the Skype equivalent, operators have failed, particularly UK and European companies – the US is slightly different.

“Social networking-type products – failed. If you look at something like Samsung, and all the Samsung extra apps that go on my phone, WatchON and ChatON and everything, you ignore it.

“Functionally it does what Facebook does, but it’s not attractive at all. It’s a Samsung product that’s attached to the phone, I’ve got no choice.

“So for telcos to try and sell a consumer a thermostat is a really strange proposition, or for an alarm company to sell you a light switch is also a strange proposition, the smart home industry or market sits between all of those providers.

“Something I want to see if we can do is, can we create a brand that draws in the partnerships with the telcos, alarm companies, entertainment companies, energy utilities? Otherwise all those are all going to try and compete with each other for that same product.”

Mr Steele’s nCube smart home system claims to help homeowners reduce their energy consumption by up to 20% through better control of heating, hot water scheduling and control of other home appliances.

The system uses a smartphone app that connects to a hub in the house, which in turn connects to devices like thermostats, heating controls, lights, and smoke sensors.

Mr Steele said the system can measure energy information from devices such as lights and the heating system, then present it per user, per room, or per device on an energy “leaderboard”, helping people work out how to save energy.

He said the average energy consumption of a home in the UK is cited by some sources as £1,600 a year, and his system could save up to 20% of that for consumers, paying for its own £250 installation cost within one to two years.

He said: “Referring to some of the DECC research and other statistics around, energy prices have increased 60% in the last six years and they’re forecast to double again in the next five years.

“It’s a real issue.”

Mr Steele, who has based his system on a prototype he created at the age of 15 to automate his bedroom, has already attracted high-profile investors Martin Harriman, formerly of Telefonica, and Oliver Rothschild and this week launched a crowdfunding campaign looking for £124,000 for the next stage of the business.

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