Audi of America, Inc. has debuted a new lowest–cost data plan price of $15 per month for an in–vehicle Internet connectivity feature it sells under the Audi Connect moniker — a feature that provides access to online services through the in-dash display as well as a built–in Wi–Fi hotspot for passengers’ brought–in mobile devices.
It is the auto industry’s lowest–priced data plan for such built–in connectivity, according to Audi. But there are caveats.
Under the new plan, Audi Connect users have the option to pre–pay $450 for 30 months of service, which breaks down to the $15 monthly rate. And in a new twist for Audi, it’s not just buyers of new Audis who can sign up for the plan. Existing Audi Connect customers may switch to the new plan from their current data plans when their contracts are up for renewal, and buyers of certified pre–owned Audis who are activating their Audi Connect plans for the first time also may sign up for it.
Alternatively, Audi also is continuing to offer its previous Audi Connect data plans, each of which would cost more per month but require less or no commitment: $324 pre–paid for 12 months ($27 per month); $600 pre–paid for 24 months ($25 per month); or $30 month–to–month.
Each plan begins after a six–month free–trial period for first–time customers, and there is no activation fee.
The online services available with Audi Connect include Google Earth and voice–controlled Google local search in the navigation system, and real–time localized news, weather and fuel prices. Real–time Sirius XM Traffic information in the navigation system also is included with Audi Connect. The included Wi–Fi hotspot can accommodate up to eight connected devices. In addition, users can send as many as 50 destinations to the vehicle from the Google Maps website.
Still, there are some limitations with Audi Connect.
All of the Audi Connect plans include “virtually unlimited” data usage, said T-Mobile (the carrier providing the connectivity) in a joint press release with Audi that announced the new plan last Thursday.
T-Mobile reserves the right to cap “abusers,” and this has been the policy since Audi Connect was launched with the carrier’s service in 2011, noted Brad Stertz, corporate communications manager at Audi of America, based in Herndon, Va. Nevertheless, Stertz said, “that hasn’t happened yet;” Audi knows of no instance in which T-Mobile has instituted such a cap.
Moreover, the connectivity speed offered with Audi Connect is not T-Mobile’s fastest data rate. While T-Mobile currently is building out a new cellular network using the latest and quickest LTE or Long–Term Evolution (4G) communications technology, Audi’s vehicles connect only with the carrier’s older 3G network. So, whereas LTE service offers data download speeds of up to 150 megabits per second (Mbps) — and responds much faster to user requests than 3G — Audi Connect’s fastest data download rate is 7.2 Mbps, said Anupam Malhotra, senior manager for connected vehicles at Audi of America.
This will change next year. Audi is already planning to include LTE connectivity in the model–year 2015 A3, which arrives at dealerships early next year, and in other models as they become available.
The carrier and the pricing for Audi’s LTE service are still to be determined, Stertz noted, but some new Audi Connect capabilities that the service will enable were foretold when Audi announced the 2015 A3 ahead of the New York International Auto Show last month. These included streaming high–definition video and conducting video conference calls using a brought–in device with the vehicle’s built–in Wi–Fi hotspot. Other new Audi Connect features in the 2015 A3 will include smartphone app integration using a Wi–Fi connection, Picture Navigation — which sets the navigation system’s destination to the location where a photo was shot — and voice–controlled social media features.
Audi Connect currently is available with the automaker’s “MMI Navigation plus” package, which is standard on some Audi models and optional on others.