It's easy to buy home security
equipment on the Internet. And home energy and automation gear is just as easy
to find. But buying the hardware is the easy part. Programming the devices and
making the separate components interact with one another is the real challenge.
Even if you're a successful programmer, it's still no picnic. And, once the
devices are programmed, you still have to master as many as three separate apps
to control each system from your smartphone or tablet. You might even have to
build your own website to view streaming video from your home.
Then there's the central station hookup.
Some DIYers skip that part. That's a huge mistake. Because it's the central station
hookup that provides peace of mind from burglary and fire, and connecting to a
central station is the only way to qualify for a homeowner's insurance
When you add up the cost of the
equipment, the time and frustration required to install and program the devices
and the recurring monthly monitoring fees, you might discover there's little
advantage to doing the job yourself. So check out all the other options before
you jump into a DIY installation.
Several national telecommunications
companies now offer totally integrated security, energy management and home
automation systems. Their systems are professionally installed and monitored by
a UL-listed central station. You pay a reasonable one-time installation and
equipment fee, and then a competitive monthly monitoring fee. The best part is
that most systems utilize a single app to control the separate systems.
However, there are some important differences
among the systems. The most important is how the system communicates the
security, energy management, and automation signals and commands. An
Internet-based system relies on your home's Internet connection. Since the
Internet connection can fail, you must have a reliable backup connection for
your system to remain up and running. An Internet-based system can utilize your
existing old-fashioned hard-wired phone service as backup. But it can't use a
phone service that's run through a box connected to your cable or DSL modem,
because those don't work during an Internet outage. If you don't have a
hard-wired phone line or you use a phone device connected to your Internet
modem, you'll need a backup, which could be an add-on cellular backup device.
That will boost your monthly monitoring charges a bit. The cellular backup will
transmit signals to your central station during an Internet outage, but you may
lose control over your energy management and home automation devices until your
Internet service is restored.
There's another option, however.
Instead of relying on your Internet connection, the AT&T Digital Life
system uses the AT&T mobility cellular network as the primary
communications mode. All security, energy management, and home automation
signals transmit over the AT&T network. The only time the AT&T system
uses your Internet is for video streaming and emergency backup. In the event
that your Internet is down, cellular communications will allow you to maintain
control of your security, energy and home automation devices.
The next big difference is equipment/software
compatibility. Some companies cobble together off-the-shelf hardware and find a
controller to run everything. That may work for a while. But a software glitch
down the road or an incompatible software update can cause system-wide
problems. That's where things get dicey. Since the installing company didn't
build the system, they're at the mercy of their suppliers to find a solution.
Until they do, you're out of luck. With your home's security at stake, that's
not the type of system you want. AT&T Digital Life, on the other hand, is
an example of a system that was designed by AT&T from the ground up. They had
the controller built to their specifications and designed software and an app
to ensure complete compatibility and uniform operation among the individual
devices, controller and the AT&T Digital Life app.
Finally, there's a
huge difference between apps. We prefer apps that control all your systems from
a single app. They're user-friendly and easy to customize. They let you pick
your own name for each device and set up your own custom notifications. They
also allow you to configure automation tasks individually or base them on certain
events that you program—like turning on lights after sensing a garage door
opening. The AT&T Digital Life app is one that has all those features. In
fact, in our opinion, it's easy to use because it's intuitive. Some other apps may
be harder to navigate and lock you into presets you can't change. App design is
so important that you shouldn't commit to any company's system until you've
actually used their app. If you can't figure out the app, you'll never be able
to take full advantage of the system's features, and that defeats the whole
purpose of installing a fully featured integrated security, energy, and home