AT&T brings Digital Life to New Orleans home

NEW ORLEANS--AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) brought to life the concept behind its new Digital Life home automation and security service at a stately New Orleans Garden District home. Yesterday, members of the media were treated to a tour of a New Orleans house where we saw demonstrations of how various home appliances, window shades, table lamps, door locks, security cameras and even coffee pots can be outfitted with wireless sensors and then be controlled via an app on the homeowners' iPad or smartphone.

The sensors within the home connect using short-range wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi or Z Wave, but the information is sent to the Internet via an AT&T 3G network connection or through the homeowner's existing broadband connection, which can be supplied by AT&T or another provider. For more, see this slideshow of the Digital Life tour.

Although many of the concepts demonstrated during yesterday's Digital Life tour have been talked about for many years, seeing the vision become a reality was impressive. AT&T said it will begin trials of the new service in Atlanta and Dallas later this summer.

Of course, AT&T isn't the only carrier interested in home security. Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) launched a home security and energy management service last fall and Comcast too offers similar services through its Xfinity Home play.

Will carriers like AT&T be successful in the home automation business?According to Yankee Group analyst Brian Partridge, entering the home security and management area is a natural extension for AT&T. However, he warned that there are already "trusted" players in this space such as ADT. "The challenge for AT&T and any other operator that wants to play in security is to prove it too can be trusted in such a critical area."

Price was noticeably absent from any discussion of AT&T's Digital Life service--company representatives reiterated that since the technology is only in the trial phase they aren't releasing pricing details. However, one woman I spoke with hinted that there will be different packages available for different types of services--for example, a basic security service that alerts you if something is amiss at home might cost a lower monthly fee than the service that allows you to program your home for certain activities (for example, a setting for "reading" would turn off the stereo and TV and would turn on reading lights in the library).

But I have to wonder how much it would cost to outfit your home with all those sensors and get it programmed to work as smoothly as the New Orleans home did. Roger Entner, analyst with Recon Analytics, noted that this type of system may not be in everyone's price range. However, he added that AT&T only needs to tap a small percentage of its customer base to reap the rewards of offering this type of service.

And he also noted that once a homeowner gets their lamps and door locks outfitted with wireless sensors via AT&T's Digital Life program, they are unlikely to churn because no one wants to rip out that technology once it's embedded in your home appliances. 

Like many things we will see and talk about at the CTIA Wireless 2012 conference here this week, I will be interested to see how long it takes for AT&T's Digital Life concept home to become a reality. Personally, I can see the security benefits of this type of service--I'd love to see who is on my front door step when I'm away. However, I can forgo the automated coffee making and some of the other whiz-bang services. After sitting at a computer all day, I want to have a few reasons to move around my house. --Sue