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AT&T targets video home security as next broadband market

Just because you're paranoid

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The most surprising applications often lead to market breakthroughs and we place in this category all applications that involve the transport of video through existing networks for security purposes.

Which is why AT&T’s announcement this week of a home monitoring service is likely to go down a treat with the “paranoia ridden” US populace that is constantly wondering what’s happening to their homes, in a country that places a huge value on security and which occasionally has huge natural threats to homes.

In Europe, where one of the best ways of solving street crime is to refer to the Closed Circuit TV systems that line the metropolitan streets, the transport of this video, once it is created, is a perennial network problem, and one that has spawned a huge industry.

The AT&T service includes live video surveillance on a remote computer or even on your cell phone, complete with lighting controls and sensors that detect anything from motion, temperature change or flooding around your home. The service itself is priced at just $9.95 a month and it works with any broadband Internet service, but only with Cingular Wireless phones.

In effect this is like attaching a couple of $100 cameras to a Sling Box, because it solves all the same issues of video sizing and bandwidth sensing, along with the additional problems of adding motion sensors and the like, and giving the cameras enough degrees of freedom so they can view most areas of a home.

The video offered comes from a Panasonic camera and is not fullmotion, and only works at speeds up to seven frames a second, when attached to a PC, and fewer on a cellphone.

If the handset runs HSDPA it can get as many as two or three frames a second, but works at just one frame a second on a normal cellular data service.

To use the package on a phone costs extra, and requires mobile internet access, but of course it really only has to send a still picture fairly infrequently or when one of the sensors at home goes off.

AT&T will provide a $199 package of a tilt-and-pan video camera, motion sensor for a door or window, a central router to connect those systems to the Internet, and two power-outlet modules that transmit the video between the camera and the router using the home's electrical wiring. It’s pretty unlikely that an end user could source all of the right equipment for anything like that amount.

Users also can program the system to take specific pre-programmed actions, or send an alert via e-mail or wireless text message, when a sensor detects changes.

If there's motion across the video camera's field of view or if a sensor detects that a window has been opened, the system can automatically send an alert, turn on a light and start recording video. A Web-based dashboard is used to configure the system, and most features can be controlled via a cellphone.

One major weakness of the system is that if an intruder wants to turn the entire thing off, all he has to do is cut power to the house. Expect a rush of copycat services from a cellular operator near you.

Copyright © 2006, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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