AT&T’s Digital Life Engages Automation on a Grand Scale

Kevin Petersen, SVP, AT&T Digital Life

Kevin Petersen, SVP, AT&T Digital Life

By Fred Dawson

March 11, 2013 – AT&T has expanded on its launch plans for the new wireless-centric home security and automation solution under the Digital Life brand, making clear this will be a highly automated next-generation approach to what has become an accelerating business opportunity for network service providers.

As described and demonstrated by Kevin Petersen, senior vice president of AT&T Digital Life, the service is designed to fit into mainstream user experiences with mobile apps while avoiding requirements to sign up with the carrier’s own mobile or fixed services. “It’s an experience that’s different from anything that’s out there in the market today,” Petersen says.

“If you think about our platform, think about our distribution, think about our monitoring – when you think about our field force, it’s all connected under one umbrella allowing us to differentiate the experience,” he adds. “I think it will really change the game in this industry.”

As previously reported, the basic service is tied to home security, the most popular application in the connected home services domain, with several home automation packages offered as add-ons. Petersen declines to divulge pricing but, when asked whether costs of service will be in the ballpark of competitors like Comcast and Verizon, replies, “It will be very competitively priced.”

Notably, he says, “I think one of the things that’s been holding this industry back are high upfront costs. So we’ll take that very seriously in terms of lowering that upfront cost in exchange for a two-year contract. And we’re all about value, meaning we’ll give you more for that same price [of competitors] if not a lower price.”

AT&T has been testing the service in Atlanta and Dallas since last summer and will roll it out there commercially this monthh, along with six other unnamed cities. By year’s end the company intends to add up to another 50 markets to the service footprint.

Security is definitely the low-hanging fruit in the connected home service portfolio, Petersen says. But, he adds, what’s been registered so far in terms of consumers’ comfort levels with various home automation features may not be a measure of future interest, given the improvements in ease of use and functionalities intrinsic to the Digital Life service.

“Security is a well-known entity in an old way,” Petersen says. “I’m going to give you a way to not only see your home but interact with your home when it comes to security. That comes back to existing devices that you may think of but allowing you to do different things with those same devices by combining them with automation devices.”

Surveillance is the foundation, but there’s much more, he says. “It’s access. So it’s door locks, garage doors. It’s water detection, water leak protection. It’s video.”

When it comes to energy management, widely perceived as a harder sell than security, here, too, AT&T hopes to make a more compelling case through the range of applications and ease of use. “There are some creative things I can do around energy management that are traditional as well as nontraditional,” he says without further elaboration.

As described in AT&T’s promotion materials, options available beyond the basic security package include:
• Video Package: View live video from inside and outside of the home
• Energy Package: Control appliances, lighting and HVAC for convenience and energy efficiency
• Door Package: Invite a pet sitter or repairman in remotely with automated door locks, or check to see whether your garage door is open or closed
• Water Packages: Detect water leaks before damage occurs, or, shut off water at the main water source if a leak is detected

“You can mix and match how you set it up,” Petersen says. “You can buy them all; you can buy just security; you can buy security plus one flavor of automation. And then it’s all backed by a lifetime warranty; it’s all professionally installed by us.

While the service is designed to work as an app on multiple types of mobile devices as well as PCs, it also comes with a small control panel built by Cisco Systems to provide a point of home security and automation control regardless of what other devices users might choose to load the app onto.

Joe Chow vice president and general manager for connected home devices within Cisco’s Service Provider Video Technology Group, goes so far as to call Digital Life a “revolutionary service.” “The unique combination of wireless technologies working together for Digital Life represents the future of in-home communications,” Chow says.

Significantly, he notes, the companies will be able to upgrade and add services over time without requiring equipment changeouts.”The software framework incorporated into the platform allows AT&T and Cisco to expand and manage the lifecycle of new services under the Digital Life banner,” he says.

While an initial installation visit from a Digital Life technician is required for initial hookup and to instruct users in how the system works, the platform is designed to allow customers to perform their own upgrades to additional services, Petersen notes. “If you just bought security but then you want to add a door lock or a garage control or the water solution, that’s not a problem,” he says. “You can do it yourself or have us do it for you.”

Along with its availability through any fixed or wireless broadband service, AT&T is breaking new ground with Digital Life by creating its own centralized monitoring and reporting centers, which by virtue of high levels of automation will be able to meet 24/7 operational requirements even as the service scales to millions of users.

“We’ve built two all-IP monitoring centers, one in Atlanta and one in Dallas to cover the entire nation,” Petersen says. “We have a local presence with our sales and our installation force. We’ve got a national presence with a local reach with our monitoring. And we’re appropriately licensed to have the addressable market we need to really grow this industry.”

Interestingly, AT&T didn’t initially intend to build its own monitoring and reporting centers, given there are many such operations available and which are commonly employed to support operators’ needs. “I get asked all the time, why didn’t you just use another wholesale monitoring service out there?” Petersen says.

“We couldn’t,” he continues. “In fact, they’re all sitting on analog with limited insight into what’s really going on in our customers’ homes. We’re changing the game making it all IP, meaning, if you call in I can actually go device by device to determine what’s happening in your home.”

Working in AT&T’s favor in terms of its ability to educate the public on the benefits of the service and how it works is the fact the carrier can give them hands-on experience with using the apps while they’re visiting its retail stores, now numbering over 2,300 nationwide. The company has been piloting the store-based promotional system at its flagship Chicago store since September with demonstrations of security, thermostat management, lock controls and other applications users can access on iPads in the demo area.

Hands-on experience is vital to getting the service into the mainstream, Petersen says. “I think from a technical perspective the moment has arrived,” he says. “The advent of IP technology and lowering of cost, people’s adoption of smartphones and tablets and the ability to use an app – it’s all there.

“In terms of getting the awareness out, it really comes back to this distribution, getting in to the retail stores, getting the word out, putting it in someone’s hands. That’s what we’re really aiming to do. Not talking about it but actually allowing you to interact.”