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AT&T Signs Up for House-Sitting Duty

As if the remote home monitoring and automation market weren’t crowded enough already with players like ADT and utility companies with their smart meters, AT&T announced on Monday plans for entering the arena.

It will offer consumers Web-based access to automation tools for their home energy and water controls, as well as professionally monitored security services under the AT&T Digital Life moniker.

AT&T will offer a Digital Life platform that will work anywhere in the United States regardless of the provider or network consumers choose, AT&T spokesperson Mari Melguizo told TechNewsWorld.

Sharing Your Life With AT&T

The carrier will offer a variety of connected devices, including cameras; window and door sensors; smoke, carbon monoxide and motion sensors; door locks; thermostats; and appliance power controls.

These devices will be wireless enabled for connection to the IP-based AT&T Digital Life platform that will be installed in purchasers’ homes.

The platform will include built-in AT&T mobile Internet service. It will also be able to use WiFi, Z-Wave and wired broadband connections. Z-Wave is a wireless communications protocol designed for home automation.

Purchasers will be able to use smartphones, tablets or PCs to access the service and remotely control devices managed by the AT&T Digital Life platform, whether they’re within the United States or abroad. Purchasers will be able to customize their security solutions through the platform’s user interface application.

Keeping Your Home Safe?

While Digital Life could tighten up security in some regards, there’s the potential that it could open up new doors.

“Having more devices and gateways into the home does increase the attack surface for consumers,” Kapil Raina, director of product marketing at Zscaler, told TechNewsWorld.

The system will most likely be targeted at mobile devices such as tablets, which most people primarily run on WiFi networks, Raina pointed out. This is a potential vulnerability as “with WiFi, the user is at the mercy of the local WiFi provider, which [tends to] leave the user wide open for credential theft [and attacks by] Trojans and other malware.”

Further, because these services were designed for remote operations, they “give thieves an open window for converting a digital theft into a physical theft,” Raina pointed out. Then there’s the danger of losing the tablet itself.

Finally, home automation services that include video might result in video feeds being posted on public media such as YouTube “not for financial gain but for malicious intent,” Raina warned.

It’s Not All Bad

ADT has a similar service called Pulse, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. “These services tend to use wired or encrypted wireless cameras which are far more secure than the unencrypted baby cameras people use around their homes.”

Consumers will have to purchase new cameras, sensors, door locks and other devices for use with the system, and installation costs “typically run to several thousand dollars,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld. However, these systems “can do a pretty good job” of keeping homeowners safe.

Keeping the Lines Open

“The [Digital Life] system is likely to face the same challenges as any home system with power and connectivity — if you lose either, your system may be rendered useless,” Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst at Tirias Research, told TechNewsWorld. “The only way to guard against this is to have battery backup and cellular connections for the system.”

Given that AT&T’s wireless network has drawn complaints for dropped calls, the question of what would happen if the network is down when there’s a break-in arises.

“For Digital Life, in the event data packets are lost, the home controller will continue to re-transmit the signal until it gets confirmation from the data center that the signal has been received,” AT&T’s Melguizo said. If there’s a complete 3G outage in an area, AT&T will offer failover to broadband as a customer option.

The Digital Life system will be trialed in Atlanta, Ga., and Dallas, Texas, this summer. More details will be released when the system’s commercially launched.

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