Cisco invests in home automator

Control4 could be key to utility/home architecture

Cisco has invested in Control4, a maker of home automation and energy products. This could be what CEO John Chambers was alluding to when he mentioned linking home network architectures to the smart grid during Cisco's Q2 conference call.

Control4's EMS 100 system includes an energy controller, a touchscreen interface that provides data on energy consumption and cost, a wireless thermostat, and associated software for all components. The EMS 100 system provides customers of utilities with information about their energy use and the ability to respond to event notifications during peak periods.

Cisco will integrate EMS 100 into routers and switches for utilities and offer other Control4 products under the Cisco brand.

Cisco is the lead investor in Control4's most recent $15 million round, according to this story in Reuters. The amount of the Cisco investment was not disclosed. 

According to Control4, customers of the utilities deploying the integrated Cisco/Control4 system will be able to not only monitor and control energy usage, but automate and control lighting, temperature, entertainment, communication and security.

As CNET points out, high-end home media systems use Control4's system to stream video and audio to different rooms. Cisco plans to extend that to its home networking gear, and presumed targets include the new umi telepresence system and Linksys entertainment hub.

Indeed, the whole thrust behind Cisco's Smart+Connected Communities initiative, of which this is now part, is to tie energy aware homes into intelligent utility grids. The idea is to allow buildings and homes to dynamically adjust energy usage to peak and valley periods. 

And this week's investment sounds like what Chambers was referring to when he mentioned something coming to link home networking architectures to the smart grid. It sounds like a key piece of that plan. 

But Q2 showed that consumers are not yet buying or buying into the architectural premium of Cisco's gear. Cisco's Consumer sales were down 15%. Umi wins praise for its quality, but is panned for its price. And sales of the least sophisticated piece of that architecture - Flip videocams - were 50% off Cisco's targets. 

Selling the Control4 side of that architecture sounds easy. Selling Cisco-branded products into the home to be controlled by Control4 could prove more challenging if Cisco can't reverse recent trends in its Consumer business and products.

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