EE jumps into UK smart home game, UK still doesn’t seem interested


Mobile network operator (MNO) EE has announced a smart home service package, in partnership with Hive and Nest, to be launched in the UK. Now part of British Telecom (BT), EE is planning to let customers add smart home devices to their smartphone bills, spreading the cost over a year. However, the UK market has barely changed since EE rival O2 threw in the towel on its own SHaaS package, so EE is hoping its slightly different angle will help – but consumers still aren’t exactly clamoring for such a service.

Included in the program is a year of support from the dedicated Smart Home Help Team, which is indicative of the fact that the smart home sector is still not at the ‘works out of the box’ level of readiness yet. Sure, most things only need some tinkering with an app on the smartphone, and the creation of an online account for each brand, and perhaps the billing details for the associated monthly services, and then maybe some mild installation, and hopefully no troubleshooting – which is actually rather a lot.

But a company like EE is in prime position to remove most of those account-based headaches, by pre-provisioning devices to be associated with a particular person or family. Such setup would be part of the service itself, which would help the operator maintain control of the deployment quite well, as a customer couldn’t really take their settings over to another provider. The MNO, ISP, TV provider, or utility needs to ensure that the installation is as pain-free as possible, and it seems that there is work to do in ensuring that more of this can be done behind the scenes.

In time, the experience should be as simple as scanning a barcode and associating that package of devices with a customer account. As it stands, there’s no easy way of doing that, nor does it seem that this is a headache that will be solved in any great hurry. There are so many rivals competing that bringing them all to the table will be strenuous. For now, it’s easier to rely on a customer support team, and hope that the earlier customers are tech-enthusiasts.

EE’s approach is different from the SHaaS package that the likes of Comcast are offering. It isn’t exactly a service provider, but it is acting as a retail and finance channel for its smart home partners. It is the controlling brand, but it is not providing a conventional service – rather, just the interest free 12-month finance deal, and the support line associated with it.

Whether the offerings prove popular remains to be seen. However, the approach is a nice way for EE to cut ties if it doesn’t pan out. It won’t be forced to do as rival MNO O2 (Telefonica) did, when it shuttered the system it had licensed from AT&T – Digital Life. AT&T was apparently looking to sell that division, but there hasn’t been any movement on that front. It would have been a bigger embarrassment for O2 had it drummed up any real interest in its O2 Smart Home service. Instead, only a tiny fraction of its customers had to suffer the inconvenience – and O2’s announcement page now 404’s.

For EE’s parent, BT, the deal should provide some valuable data for launching smart home services inside its broadband and TV wing. Satellite TV rival Sky seems poised to expand here too, and cable provider Virgin may make a similar move too, but none of the TV or broadband providers in the UK seem to be in any hurry to expand into SHaaS. It is telling that British Gas, the energy provider, has made most headway, selling its Hive subsidiary’s wares alongside gas and electricity.

The current list of devices and brands supported by EE includes: Hive’s Active Heating, Active Lighting, View camera, and Active Plug; Nest’s Learning Thermostat, Nest Cam Indoors; Google Home; Apple HomePod; Honeywell’s T6R-HW Thermostat; TP-Link’s WiFi Smart Plug; and Philips Hue’s White Starter Kit.

Amazon’s Echo family is conspicuously absent, and given the plethora of lighting products out there, it’s notable that Philips is the only option here. There’s almost no chance of us digging into the commercial deals behind the scenes here, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see exclusivity clauses.