Friend or Foe: AT&T Ventures Into Home Control

2/29/2012 12:01:00 PM

by Lindsey Adler

AT&T has announced a service dubbed Digital Life, an IP-based remote monitoring and automation platform that global service providers can offer subscribers for customizable, web-based home automation, energy, and security features. Billed as “a complete end-to-end solution,” Digital Life integrates wireless sensors and cameras with a home control center for managing through any web-based device. Features include licensed software development kits, hardware certification, application hosting, and technical and integration support.

The big selling point AT&T is serving up is the potential new revenue streams, as well as reducing churn—the mobile phone industry term for losing customers. Service providers can develop their own GUIs while extending their branding, according to the company’s press release. Digital Life can be self-installed in a home or office.

AT&T seems to be picking up on a trend the residential ESC has been watching unfold rapidly. The real question at hand concerning this new platform can be boiled down to friend or foe? On the one hand, AT&T has a good chance of capturing some home networking business from mid-level homeowners, but most of this demographic is probably interested in an inexpensive, low-end solution. There may or may not be much value there for a custom installer. On the other hand, this move into home networking from the communications behemoth could benefit the custom ESC by bringing a broader awareness about whole home automation to the general public. Some consumers might dip their toes in AT&T’s technology and develop a thirst for a more high-end solution.

This development from AT&T also serves as further validation for the CEDIA channel’s role in the marketplace while reminding dealers they better be on their best game. So in many ways, AT&T’s Digital Life could be seen as both a threat and an opportunity.

The product introduction is also reminiscent of trends and warnings CEDIA issued in its ESC of 2016 report, which was released early this year as “a look into future technology and market conditions for the CEDIA ESC member.” The report identified the “truly ‘connected home’’ as the first of several major shifts in the marketplace. Mobile devices, networking, and IP also ranked in this list.  

The CEDIA report stated: “Because of these shifts, clients are asking CEDIA members to be experts in the wider technology field, such as networks, energy management, and home health, to name a few. The CEDIA member of 2016 can no longer look at the home as a series of islands of automation in which the ESC is only responsible for entertainment and traditional control systems, while other providers manage computers, networks, and newer technologies. With the rapid movement toward the “connected home” in which all of these systems are much more complex and interrelated, a small issue in one system can cascade into a major issue in another system. The home must be viewed as one complex technological system, with many interrelated subsystems.”

AT&T seems to be adopting this view with the introduction of the Digital Life platform. It is worth nothing that this is a wholesale offering for service providers outside the United States. A spokesperson for AT&T would not speculate on any future plans or services in the States. So the direct impact that this service could have on residential ESCs in the United States is questionable at best; however, it is relevant to note what could be the first foray into this vertical market by a traditional broadband/mobile service provider, which is also a global megalith of a corporation.

Recent news indicates this a larger trend with Verizon joining the Z-Wave Alliance, and Comcast partnering with home energy management solution provider EcoFactor.

As an ESC, how significant do you view the introduction of AT&T’s Digital Life platform? Check out this YouTube video outlining the platform in more detail, and let us know in the comments section below.


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