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British invasion: Hive brings its UK smart home line stateside

Having succeeded the UK smart home market, Hive, backed by British Gas parent Centrica, is rolling out its smart home line here in the US.

If you live in the United Kingdom and you're a British Gas customer, you can order a Hive Active Heating package. With that service plan, a British Gas rep will come to your home and install a Hive smart thermostat that grants control of both your home HVAC system and your water heater, both locally and through an app on your phone. Backed by a £500 million investment by its parent, Centrica (also the parent of British Gas), Hive is now taking its smart home business to the US in a multipart rollout.

With this launch, Hive and Centrica join a crowded market in the US, where companies like Samsung (via SmartThings), Wink, iDevices, Insteon and others sell whole suites of smart home devices without a subscription fee requirement. Of the companies that do require a subscription, ADT, AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and others, your fee includes things like device installation, security monitoring, and cloud video storage.


The Hive Active Learning Thermostat


Hive is no rookie in the smart home space. It has operated in the UK since 2012, and boasts 360,000 customers as of August 2016, selling its own branded hardware through a hybrid subscription model that involves either partnering with an energy provider, or charging customers a subscription fee, but no upfront hardware costs.

Hive's initial rollout will be administered through the energy provider Direct Energy, which will offer a service plan called Connect to Comfort 24 in six states: Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and Texas. With that package, you get an internet-connected, Yves Behar-designed Hive Active Thermostat (no water heater controller, yet). The plan requires a 24-month commitment from the customer, and includes the thermostat, free installation service (on request) and a locked-in energy rate throughout the contract period.

In the state of Illinois, for example, Connect to Comfort 24 costs 8.59 cents per kilowatt hour, a premium over Direct Energy's most affordable, 7.19-cent locked-rate plan.

After the Direct Energy launch, Hive will start selling subscription-based smart home kits in early May. Hive has actually been selling standard starter kits for an upfront cost here in the US since fall 2016, but Hive founder Nina Bhatia says its new offerings will be more use-case driven.

One example is Hive Welcome Home, which includes a control hub, the thermostat, smart light bulbs, smart power outlet adapters and window and door sensors. The idea is that through that assortment of devices, you can configure your home to automatically tweak the temperature and the lighting as soon as you walk in the front door. There's no upfront cost for all that stuff, just the subscription fee.

What else comes with that subscription is still being determined. At a minimum, Hive says it will provide the app to control everything and online customer service. That's not terribly enticing since most smart home companies provide those things for free. The company says it's still deciding on other perks, including free installation.

The pricing of the subscription hasn't been disclosed yet. If it can provide a compelling set of perks, and come under similar offerings from Comcast, AT&T and other current providers, Hive may have a chance to replicate its success in the UK here in the US.