U.S. Cellular launches 'OnLook' home automation and security service, challenging AT&T

U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) is jumping into the digital home automation and security market, presenting a challenge to AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T), which has largely had the market to itself among wireless carriers via its Digital Life unit.

U.S. Cellular is calling its service the "OnLook Digital System," which is now available in the company's Iowa and Tulsa, Okla., markets (the service is available statewide in Iowa). The carrier said the system is a self-installed home automation and security system that can be managed via a smartphone, tablet or computer.

According to U.S. Cellular, the OnLook service is powered by Alarm.com's cloud-based connected home software platform and runs on the carrier's 3G CDMA network. The company is offering three packages or service tiers starting at $100 with a two-year contract. Each plan also requires a $40 device activation fee and credit approval.

The three OnLook package options include: Essential Security, Advanced Security and Advanced Security + Energy. Each package includes 24/7 professional monitoring and standard components include a control panel, two door or window sensors, a motion sensor, a key fob and security signs and decals.

The Essential Security plan contains those basics and starts at $100 plus a fee of $30 per month. The Advanced Security plan starts at $150 plus a $40 per month fee and adds a carbon monoxide and smoke detector. And the Advanced Security + Energy plan starts at $200 plus a $50 fee per month and adds in a smart thermostat, lamp module and appliance module. Like with AT&T's service, customers can add on additional devices like cameras, which cost more.

It's unclear when U.S. Cellular will expand the service to other markets, or which ones. "We are currently focused on the Tulsa market and Iowa for 2015 and will share additional information in the coming months," U.S. Cellular spokeswoman Iman Jefferson told FierceWireless.

"We're so excited to introduce the OnLook Digital System to our customers in Iowa and the Tulsa market," Joe Settimi, U.S. Cellular's vice president of marketing, said in a statement. "OnLook is a solution that provides peace of mind to customers, making it simple to check in on your home, adjust lights, temperature and more through their tablet or smart phone. It joins our existing home solution offerings which include Home Phone and High Speed Internet Services."

AT&T first launched Digital Life in April 2013, and has since expanded it to more than 80 U.S. markets. The company is taking on traditional security companies like ADT but also MSOs like Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) and Cox Communications.

AT&T's Digital Life plans range from $40 a month for a basic security plan to $55 a month with security and automation packages. For example, the company's "Smart Security" package has an up-front cost of $150, requires a two-year contract and costs $40 per month, That package includes a keypad, indoor siren, keychain remote, three door sensors, three window sensors and one motion sensor.

For U.S. Cellular, the OnLook push is a way to expand its service offering, increase the stickiness of its service and generate additional revenue. The challenge is that it has a limited native geographic service footprint and is much smaller than AT&T and other Tier 1 carriers.

AT&T's Digital Life business seems to be humming along. In September, the company said the business had around 140,000 subscribers at the end of the third quarter, with more than half of those added in the past two quarters. AT&T said around a third of customers who sign up for Digital Life security plans are also adding automation products, with the majority of those choosing video or door-control products.

Also in September, AT&T announced plans to partner with Telefónica for a limited trial of Digital Life in Europe in the first quarter of 2015. The trial will represent the first time AT&T has expanded Digital Life outside of the U.S.

For more:
- see this U.S. Cellular release
- see this U.S. Cellular site

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Article updated Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. ET with additional information from U.S. Cellular.

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