AT&T digs deep with 'Digital Life'

Some may take exception to the fact that telecommunications stalwart AT&T has entered security and home automation in a big way with its Digital Life services. There’s reason for the industry’s trepidation. AT&T has a huge existing customer base and the ability to quickly gulp up recurring monthly revenue. Perhaps the big picture in all this is that AT&T is increasing awareness—which may drive business to whomever can deliver the best service ‘experience.’

We hear about experience all the time, and it really isn’t hard to achieve. Even the new Apple print and television ads talk about it: ‘This is it…this is what matters; the experience…’ You know full well that it takes an eye on the customer and fanatical follow up to really be able to deliver the experience the customer expects today.

AT&T Digital Life debuted at Mobile World Congress in February 2012.  At that time, the platform was already complete and it took the company about 12 months to bring the service to market. Since launching the service in early 2013, AT&T is now up to 27 markets with a goal of 50 before the end of 2013. Most recently, the company announced new foundry facilities to speed innovation in Digital Life services.

Whoever comes into the industry should know this is a tight-knit community that’s fought long and hard to erase the image of trunk slammer. I think AT&T knows this and has thrown its hat in the ring and its leader, Kevin Petersen, president of Digital Life Inc., Atlanta, concurred that the company is all in.

They recently achieved CSAA Five-Diamond Certification for their UL-listed Dallas and Atlanta central monitoring centers. All Digital Life central station operators have achieved proficiency and certification by passing CSAA central station online operator training. AT&T OEMs product with companies like Honeywell, Linear and Cisco as well as others (see complete list of at the end of this story). And according to AT&T, their technicians are 100 percent on-staff personnel specially trained in Digital Life—not local subcontractors.

“We will be active in the industry,” Petersen told me in an exclusive interview. “AT&T Digital Life is fully a security industry participant. To change the game, we have to be. We feel we can lead the way.” He added that AT&T is looking at partnerships in “customer acquisition,” and is “open to striking up partnerships in distribution.”

The company continues to assess its perception in the marketplace with Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and Petersen said it is pleased with initial response to AT&T Digital Life. “We use NPS to assess the customer experience and now, consumers are enjoying going into the new retail stores where they can build a solution and also buy product online. They can come to us many ways for their solution.”

Petersen said that in its research it found people wanted a broader solution—enabling a fully interactive experience with smart devices. “The comfort level consumers now have with smart devices has unlocked a set of opportunities across the eco system. Our solution starts with security; but what does security mean to people? It means using automation to heighten the level of security available today. It all starts with security but integrates with other solutions.”

As far as industry pundits who claim AT&T will be unable to deliver professional services in the manner many homespun companies and independents deliver, Petersen said: “Everyone is entitled to their view. We have taken the necessary steps to be successful. The security industry is in transition—security is under-penetrated. For us it’s about how you unlock the penetration rate, especially in an interactive, mobile world. We have all the pieces in place; a fully integrated solution, a big foundation of customers and retail centers across the country. We are a big company with a strong local presence and brand recognition and a history of providing local support. People like to have options and we continue to look at how we can leverage technology. It’s going to come back to the experience—we can deliver a simple, but powerful experience.”

The real deal

I had a chance to see the real deal, a demonstration house in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and I have to say that the product is good, the execution is solid and the installer training is there.

AT&T launched its Digital Life services in the Chicago area in April 2013, along with other markets. Paula Vallejo, a director of sales for AT&T national retail business, has been using Digital Life in her home for the past several months to keep track of her kids, manage her day-to-day tasks and monitor her home while she’s away at work. She’s not an official demo house but generously hosts media who want to see the solution firsthand and also has had AT&T Digital Life technicians visit for hands-on training. Most recently she began using the service to check the well-being of her dog, Bandit, who began suffering seizures and for that and the other capabilities, it definitely gives her peace of mind.

“I feel much more secure this go-around,” said Vallejo, who prior to having the AT&T solution had another security provider. “I have two teenagers and was able to nip a potential problem in the bud when I caught my son coming into the home with a suspicious backpack while I was away on vacation and viewed the video on my tablet.”

Vallejo has two wireless cameras, one at the front door with infrared imaging capability, another inside the front living room, a control panel in the closet, two smart sensor plugs for lighting control, door and window contacts, motion detector, glassbreak sensors, front door keypad, water sensors, carbon monoxide alarms and temperature/HVAC control. The Digital Life control panel, built by Cisco, is UL listed and runs the wireless home security and automation platform.

The Digital Life platform also includes built-in AT&T mobile Internet service and is also capable of Wi-Fi, Z-Wave and wired broadband connections. Subscribers can use their own wired broadband solution with the Digital Life system and can access the service and remotely control products from smartphones, tablets and PCs, regardless of carrier.

Vallejo’s husband Joe is a sergeant with a local area police department and he attested to the imaging capability of the cameras and also places trust in the system to protect his home. “Three months ago in Texas, there was an incident and the camera’s images were used to apprehend suspects—so it definitely can be used for identification, and also has infrared imaging. You can get a clip or an actually video of events. I just love knowing what’s going on in my home,” he said.

Paula Vallejo often uses the remote locking and unlocking features to let her mother into the home, or to set the lighting and temperature control via her tablet. “The apps are very customer friendly. I don’t like to have to think about a lot of different things and now I can automatically set schedules and go. When I have to change the schedule to let someone in or lock up again, I can do that easily and remotely,” she said.

She continued: “Customer experience is everything. This is our lifestyle and I offer my house as a demo because I too want to see what a customer will experience. When I had Digital Life installed, the technicians educated me on what they were doing and why; they sat down with me and went through the programs and applications. It’s so easy to use it that my 75-year-old mother can do it too. The system is 100 percent customizable. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It’s your choice. The security is first and foremost with Digital Life.”

The solution is definitely promoted by AT&T as security. There are two basic packages called Smart Security and Simple Security, with a monthly charge and initial installation fee. Simple Security includes 24/7 home monitoring, 24-hour battery backup, a wireless keypad, keychain remote, recessed sensors and an indoor siren for $29.99 a month plus $149.99 for equipment and installation. Smart Security includes the features of Simple Security plus a choice of three of the following: motion sensor, carbon monoxide sensor, glassbreak sensor, smoke sensor or takeover kit. Smart Security begins at $39.99 a month plus $249.99 for equipment and installation. Automation add-ons for the Smart Security package include water detection, water control, energy, door package and camera package. A two-year monitoring contract is required and early termination fees apply.

Security and automation today is all about experience—and it’s the consumer who will determine if it's up to par. To me, the lesson in all this is that competition is good when handled properly. And professionalism and service will always be one of the factors that set your company apart.

Editor’s note: These companies produce OEM product for AT&T: Cisco, SerComm, Aeon Labs, Honeywell, Jasco, DynaQuip, Yale and Linear.