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Verizon eyes home energy management with Fios

Will telecommunications companies be players in the smart grid? Verizon is looking to develop home network applications, including ways to control thermostats and view energy usage data.

Updated at 8:52 a.m. PDT with analyst comment.

Verizon Communications is exploring ways to use its Fios broadband service to give consumers ways to remotely control their thermostat and view their energy usage.

Company engineers are now designing applications, including energy management, to work with the routers that come with its Fios service. Greentech Media reported Verizon's plans on Wednesday.

The first application Verizon expects to roll out will be videoconferencing by the end of the year, according to company spokesman Jim Smith, who said home security and energy management are also being considered.

"Home networks are the next frontier in telecom, and we want to be ready with helpful and valuable applications," he said.

Verizon can remotely update its routers, which are equipped with three Wi-Fi channels and wired Ethernet ports. That means that the router can be a central control point for managing home devices with an Internet Protocol address, Smith said.

For example, an IP-enabled thermostat could allow a person to change temperature settings from a mobile device or set up a schedule to control a window shade with a motor.

Conceivably, data from a so-called smart meter, which can communicate energy usage in near real time, could be gathered by Verizon routers so consumers can track their usage.

Google, which is testing a home energy management application called PowerMeter, said simply getting a handle on that data helps the typical consumer reduce energy consumption 5 percent to 15 percent.

At this point, most people expect utilities to spearhead home energy management offerings through their smart-grid programs. Smart-grid trials going on now typically provide consumers with detailed usage information and incentives to reduce their energy use during peak times.

But utilities are notoriously slow adopters of technology, unlike telecommunications companies. Meanwhile, some utilities are not active in smart-grid technology at all or are hesitant to invest in energy efficiency.

Smith said Verizon could sell energy management service directly to consumers or potentially partner with a local utility.

Jesse Berst, an analyst at GlobalSmartEnergy and founding editor Smart Grid News, said that telecommunications and energy firms will compete to reach consumers with energy-management services.

"There will be a huge collision in the home, but it won't just be utilities and telcos. Many others are converging there as well," he said.