AT&T Enters the Home Security Business: Yikes!

AT&T, a company that can't deliver decent customer service, says it will protect your family with home alarm systems. They've got to be kidding.

It's 3 am and a strange noise from downstairs wakes you up.Thinking it's an intruder, you pick up the phone and call your security company, which just happens to be AT&T.

"How can I give you excellent service this morning?” a chipper fellow asks.

"Uh, someone’s breaking into my home, I need help!"

"Yes. I understand. You need help. Is that correct? Would you please verify your address and account number?" you’re asked.

This goes on for a few minutes; you’d complain, but by then, the intruder has come into your bedroom carrying a gun. Oh well.

OK, I’m exaggerating. But the thought of letting AT&T handle home security is so obviously unattractive I can't imagine that anyone would take it seriously. AT&T and its new partner, Cisco Systems, however, think it's a fine idea.

AT&T

On Monday at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, AT&T said it plans to launch its home security service in March in eight markets; by the end of the year it expects to be in 50 markets. The company, which first demonstrated the service in May, said that users would be able to manage it from a Cisco Systems control panel at home or remotely from a smartphone or computer.

From AT&T’s point of view, the move makes sense. It has a huge investment in its wireless network, at a time when the market for smartphones and data services is leveling off. So anything it can do to squeeze more revenue out of its network will make shareholders happy.

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Consumers, on the other hand, will likely be a tough sell. After all AT&T is known for having the worst wireless network of any major carrier, and even more to the point, is notoriously inept at customer service. I’ve had a number of go rounds with this company over the years, but fortunately none involved a life or death matter. I simply can't imagine trusting them to get this right.

Cisco certainly makes good equipment, but it's a company that seems to have limited patience in the consumer market. Remember how it pulled the plug on the Flip Cam when it realized that margins in a retail business are far lower than in the enterprise market. It also killed the Cius, its enterprise tablet, rather quickly when it saw the device could not compete with the iPad. I only bring up these examples because I would be wary of buying equipment that could well be orphaned.

AT&T needs to work a lot harder on customer service; no more unintelligible support calls with poorly trained techs in Asia; no more interminable waits for technicians coming to fix a problem in the home; and above all, a robust network.

When -- and if -- those things get fixed, it might make sense to trust AT&T with your family's safety. Not before.

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