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GM, AT&T Announce 4G LTE Cars

Shea Huffman |
March 2, 2013 | 10:45 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter


GM promises the partnership with AT&T will allow its OnStar service to improve, and for its cars to come with better tech-oriented features. (Image courtesy of General Motors)
GM promises the partnership with AT&T will allow its OnStar service to improve, and for its cars to come with better tech-oriented features. (Image courtesy of General Motors)

AT&T and General Motors’ OnStar announced earlier this week a partnership to start offering cars with built-in 4G LTE service by next year, continuing the trend of auto-companies seeking to keep up with the cutting edge of the tech market, or at least not be left in the dust.

GM is hoping the move will strengthen its already well-developed OnStar service, an embedded cellular system in vehicles that make up one of the largest fleets of telecom-enabled cars, with competitors like Ford’s Sync service.

Most of the 2015 fleet of Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC models, which release in late 2014, will see the wireless service added, according to GM.

From CNET:

"The excitement is you're taking a car and turning it into a smartphone with four wheels," said Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices for AT&T, in an interview with CNET. "There's an opportunity to do amazing things with the car."

With the 4G LTE functionality, GM could offer cars that act as high-speed wifi hotspots for passengers, or riders could make use of built-in apps for maps, traffic, or streaming entertainment like Netflix.

The partnership also represents a massive opportunity for AT&T, who took the place of former OnStar partner Verizon.  The telecom giant expects possibly a billion dollars in new revenue according to CNET.

While GM hasn’t announced any price changes, the added cost of installing the 4G LTE  tech into cars could prompt some new subscription models for consumers.

From Extreme Tech:

Currently OnStar costs $20-$30 a month for service, exclusive of any cellular calling or user data. (GM makes a killing selling cellular minutes via OnStar.) To recoup its investment, GM is likely looking at selling premium services, or getting a cut if you book a hotel room or restaurant via OnStar. If the data service goes on your monthly cellphone bill, it’s hidden, especially if you’re a multi-device household already. It might, for instance, choose to stream Pandora directly to the car, rather than through your cellphone, possibly just for the data charges, possibly for a fee, as it charges for XM satellite radio now.

While the GM and AT&T’s partnership is new, the trend of car-makers looking to integrate smartphone-like tech into their vehicles isn’t.  At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, companies like Ford and GM demonstrated how they are abandoning their own in-car software efforts in favor of partnerships with already-established app developers.  

The challenge car companies will face with trying to offer their own app platforms is the disconnect between the breakneck pace of software development and the 5-10 year lifespan of a typical car. 

One writer with Slate took this criticism to the next level, questioning the usefulness of 4G LTE enabled cars when so many consumers already carry smartphones with the same functionality, and suggested cars that integrated with existing phones and tablets would be more appealing.

Regardless, car-makers like GM are likely to continue trying to find ways to attract consumers, especially younger, tech-savy ones, who are increasingly less interested in buying cars.

You can reach Staff Reporter Shea Huffman here or follow him on Twitter.



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