AT&T (s t) is finally ready to unveil its home automation and security product, and it’s a pretty big deal. The product is built on AT&T’s acquisition of Xamboo in 2010, and it will put AT&t in competition with security giants such as ADT as well as a variety of startups building out routers, hubs and software for the connected home.
It’s also AT&T’s first foray into an over the top service. The company will offer the service in all areas where it provides wireless service, which may not seem like a big deal, except that the system will connect to both the AT&T wireless network as well as the wireline broadband inside a home. Looks like Ma Bell is ready to make some money on other people’s pipes.
What’s inside Digital Life
As for the service, it’s pretty compelling for the average person who’s evaluating a home automation or security system, especially if AT&t does open up the platform later as it promises it will. There are two basic packages. The cheaper entry-level package costs $29.99 a month plus $149.99 for equipment and installation. It includes 24/7 home monitoring, a wireless keypad, a remote, some sensors and an indoor siren. The more expensive package includes all of that plus three more sensors of the owner’s choice for $39.99 a month and $249.99 for the gear and installation.
AT&T also has a slew of add-on devices including water leakage sensors, wireless cameras and thermostats that a consumer can buy and add to the plan for a monthly fee. AT&T has staffed two call centers around the clock in the U.S. and has provided a battery with the system to ensure that the product is reliable and online all the time. The wireline broadband and AT&T wireless provide redundancy for the connectivity.
Glen Lurie, the president of emerging enterprises and partnerships at AT&T, explained that the whole plan behind the system is for it to be secure and easy for customers to use. That’s why for example, you can’t just bring any old connected device onto the Digital Life network. Much like AT&T’s wireless network, the AT&T wants to test the devices before it will allow them on your home network. Lurie declined to tell me when AT&T would bring on additional partners. He also declined to tell me what companies AT&T is partnering with at launch.
And yet …
However, AT&T’s plan is pretty darn basic at the entry-level and adding standard components for really useful automation and security can bring the total installation and gear cost to about $600 and the monthly service fees to about $55 a month if you add the security camera ($200 installed) and energy management ($150 installed) packages. Remote door locks, water shut-off valves and other tweaks are extra.
That’s not crazy considering you get an integrated app that’s actually quite nice to use for controlling everything, but it’s still a significant investment: especially given the closed nature of the ecosystem.
I’m currently contemplating a $210 set of connected door locks (the non-connected locks are about $85) and so I know that adding connected gadgets to your home isn’t cheap. Because for some of these devices, like thermostats or door locks are also installed into the home, you had better hope you like the overall service. Of course, that’s great for AT&T, because it presumably reduces churn. My colleague Kevin Tofel and I had a good discussion of how to choose a home automation system this week on the internet of things podcast.
And once I have those locks I’ll have to wait for a system such as MobiPlug or SmartThings to support those locks if I want to integrate them into my existing home network. Or maybe I’d have to hope my locks are supported by a software vendor such as Zonoff. Plus, I’d have to do the equivalent of programming scenes that AT&T already has its app. The Leave Home scene will turn down your air, turn off the lights and lock your doors, for example.
Lurie claimed that AT&T is ahead of its competitors by about two to three years, noting that many of the home security products from companies such as Comcast (s cmcsa) or Time Warner Cable (s twc) are provided by outside vendors and don’t have an integrated ecosystem like what AT&T is offering.
I think the integration is wonderful, but I do think it will be more powerful when I can bring in some of my existing connected devices onto the AT&T Digital Life network. While the hub that comes with the service supports Wi-Fi, 915 Mhz and other radios, the devices connect in a proprietary mesh that AT&T uses because it ensures security. It also ensures I can’t bring my own devices into the Digital Life family just yet.
But for those without my own particular hangups, the product is certainly worth a look. It launches in 15 markets on Friday including Atlanta, Austin, Texas; Boulder, Colo.; Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Riverside, Calif.; San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis and select areas of the New York and New Jersey areas.It will be in 50 markets by the end of 2013, available for purchase online and for testing at AT&T wireless stores.