AT&T Unveils Video Monitoring Service

The company launched a new service Thursday that allows customers watch real-time video on their Cingular wireless phones or computers. The IP-based service also allows subscribers to control lights remotely or receive text message alerts on motion, door and window movement.

"The platform hooks into a control system that plugs directly into the router," said Brad Bridges, assistant vice president for corporate planning at AT&T. "Sensors communicate wirelessly through 400 megahertz back to the central gateway."

The video is sent through the router and broadband connection to a central server at AT&T, where they're archived, Bridges said. Subscribers also can download the content back to their home server. The basic package comes with 50 MB of storage, expandable to an additional 250 MB, Bridges said.

Subscribers interface with the AT&T monitoring platform through a Web application, where they can control functions, such as turning off and on lights or rotating cameras.

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The connecting piece is the alert service to Cingular Wireless phones, because subscribers aren't going to want to check into the service, said Julie Ask, JupiterResearch research director focused on wireless applications.

All the cameras can directly connect to the router, but the starter kit also comes with broadband over power-line modules to use existing wire in the home, Bridges said.

Carriers have been looking for a practical application with appeal to the masses. While other companies offer wireless and IP connected camera services, AT&T's platform will let the subscribers connect up to four cameras and access the video through nearly 95 percent of cellular phones sold by Cingular today.

"There's definitely a market for this type of service," said Stan Schatt, vice president for IP networking at ABI Research. "Carriers have been looking for an application other than e-mail for cellular phones that will really generate some bandwidth, and this is probably the most practical because it touches the largest demographics."

There are automation features on the product roadmap. AT&T has plans to add the ability to tie in with alarm systems to alert police or fire departments, or radio frequency identification (RFID) sensors, and the ability to access content to store on a server through on a digital video recorder (DVR). Audio also will likely become and option.

Stifel Nicolaus and Company Inc. Senior Analyst Christopher King agrees that traditional phone companies are looking toward developing any type of application deliverable over broadband into the home. "If it proves successful, my guess is Verizon will offer a similar application," he said. "Verizon has a more robust telecommunications plan with their ViOS build then than AT&T does with their current plans, so they could do something similar."

AT&T will charge $199 for the starter kit, including the pan-and-tilt IP camera, two power cords, wireless door and window sensor, wireless gateway to connect equipment throughout the home, and software. A monthly service charge of $9.95 also applies.