Inside an AT&T Digital Life Home
What does home monitoring and automation for the masses look like?
April 25, 2014 by Grant Clauser

This article was originally published in July 2013. We’re sharing it again because this month AT&T is recognizing the one year anniversary of the Digital Life smart home platform. Also, it’s worth mentioning that AT&T is celebrating the anniversary with some special deals: customers who sign up for the Smart Security package beginning Friday April 25 will pay nothing for standard equipment and installation (normally $249). If you’re an existing Smart Security customer, AT&T is offering you 50 percent off additional equipment if you add an automation package. This year systems such as AT&T’s Digital Life are seeing increasing competition from other DIY and entry-level products from companies like Revolv, Staples Connect, Smart Things as well as previously existing products like Lowe’s Iris and Insteon.

Around April of this year AT&T introduced its home monitoring and automation service, called AT&T Digital Life, as a lower-priced alternative to many of the high-end systems that Electronic House covers on a daily basis. The service recently added Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, San Diego, San Jose, and Tampa, for a total of 33 markets (with a target of 50 by the end of the year.)

At its heart, Digital Life is a security system. Basic packages include things like door and window sensors, glass breakage sensors, surveillance cameras and an alarm system that sends alerts both to the homeowner’s smart phone and to a 24/7 monitoring service. While Digital Life doesn’t require the extensive programming and sometimes complicated installation of professional automation systems, this isn’t exactly a DIY project either. The devices must be professionally installed and configured to the main hub in the house. The user can then create automation events (called “programs” in AT&T’s parlance) with a computer interface or with a tablet or smart phone.

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It’s not nearly as comprehensive as what you’d find from a company like AMX, Crestron, Control4, Savant or Elan (and many others), but it appears to be a good solution for people who just need the basics, but don’t want to go the DIY route with a system such as the Lowes Iris. Installation is a reasonable $149, which covers the system hub and whatever devices are in the package the user selects. Monitoring costs start at $30/month and top out at $65/month, depending on what devices are included in the monitoring.

Electronic House had a chance to tour an AT&T Digital Life demo home recently to see what was involved and hear from the homeowner how the system integrates with the family’s routine. The home, located in a suburb of Philadelphia, is owned by Chris, an engineer with AT&T who volunteered to be a beta tester of sorts for the system. He lives there with his wife and their children. It’s a pretty typical 2,600 square-foot colonial representing the type of middle-class family home that AT&T has in mind for its target market. In that respect, it’s a bit different from the luxury housing market that the likes of Crestron, Control4, Savant and others are often featured in.  Check out the Electronic House 2013 Home of the Year winners here.

The homeowner next to the Digital Life communications hub, which is installed in the basement.

The Digital Life system relies on devices from a number of companies including Linear, Cisco, Honeywell and Yale. The products communicate using Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Z-Wave. A central hub in the basement is the brains of the system. All the devices on the network are operated via an iOS or Android app or a web interface on a computer.

Chris says the initial installation took most of the day, which included installing the central hub in the basement and all the integrated devices. AT&T says that installation can take anywhere from 3 to 8 hours, depending on the number of devices, but that the $149 fee is the same for all installations.

During the installation, Chris says the two technicians asked him questions about his lifestyle, the people in the house who would interact with the system, and other questions that would allow the installers to setup the the components to suit his needs.

Programming of events, such as notifications that the front door has opened or that the security camera spotted someone, are done by the homeowner directly on the system app. “It’s self-explanatory,” says Chris. “My 10-year old even set up a notification.” The activities aren’t complicated though, and mostly involve turning things on and off (such as a foyer light) or sending notifications to the iPad when a sensor is triggered.

As noted, security is the primary function of the system as installed in this house. Contact sensors on the front and back doors, all the first floor windows and the garage door, tell the system when a door or window has been opened.

In the living room is an Ethernet-connected surveillance camera that covers a view of the first floor. A glass-break sensor mounted on the ceiling responds to the specific sound frequency of breaking glass. When triggered, will set off the home’s alarm and send an alert to the 24/7 monitoring service.

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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