General Motors In Deal with AT&T for Factory-Installed 4G LTE, Starting Next Year With Most MY2015 Vehicles

General Motors Co. next year will introduce factory–installed 4G LTE high–speed cellular connections for mobile Internet access in the majority of its 2015 Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC models sold in the U.S. and Canada, using wireless service from AT&T Inc. The purpose: to enable a slew of new communications and entertainment features, including new services for GM’s OnStar telematics system, mobile apps that can be downloaded to the vehicle from a cloud-connected app catalog still in development, and an in-vehicle Wi-Fi network.

Both GM and AT&T jointly announced their new relationship on Monday at the Mobile World Congress cellular industry conference in Barcelona, Spain, where until tomorrow GM is previewing a series of conceptual connected services at an AT&T exhibit space.

GM characterized its plan to embed 4G LTE service in vehicles as “a broad global strategy” that will create “the largest deployment in the automotive industry to date.” The automaker intends to introduce 4G LTE service in vehicles for sale elsewhere in the world later, but the timing of this and other cellular service partners were not announced.

Notably, in the U.S. this strategy also begins the dissolution of GM’s years–long relationship with Verizon Wireless, which has been providing 2G cellular service to the automaker’s OnStar–equipped vehicles and had earlier collaborated with GM’s OnStar subsidiary on 4G–connected research vehicles.

But this relationship between GM and AT&T is not an entirely new development, either. Last January, GM participated in an AT&T–sponsored “hackathon” in Las Vegas, where developers competed to create innovative apps specifically for GM automobiles, using a new set of GM vehicle application programming interfaces (APIs) that let the developers customize their apps for GM vehicles’ infotainment systems. The event preceded the start of the 2013 International CES consumer electronics industry trade show, where GM formally announced these APIs along with a GM website for app developers and a “flexible application framework” that will enable owners to download new apps from an app catalog — and add new infotainment features to their vehicles — on a whim.

New capabilities…new data plans

To date, more than 1,000 developers have registered at the website, according to Greg Ross, director of product strategy and infotainment at GM in Detroit. Not all have created apps for GM vehicles yet, Ross noted. Nonetheless, he said, the GM app catalog is currently planned to debut this summer with at least an initial batch of apps that was previewed at CES, including the streaming digital audio apps Pandora, Slacker, iHeartRadio and TuneIn.

Streaming video for rear-seat passengers using in-vehicle Wi-Fi is a clear next step for 4G LTE–equipped vehicles, Ross said, because 4G LTE enables download speeds that are 10 times faster than is possible with an in–vehicle 3G cellular connection (offered, for example, by Audi and Chrysler), as well as able to handle simultaneous voice and data. In the near future, he said, GM expects that this streaming video will be viewed on a device brought in to the car by the rear seat passenger, such as an iPad or other tablet computer. Eventually, he said, it could be that an app installed in the vehicle distributes streaming video directly to a built-in rear seat entertainment system.

The in–vehicle Wi–Fi network powered by the 4G LTE service will connect with as many as seven brought–in devices, Ross said.

Moreover, Ross said, GM expects that the AT&T 4G LTE service in the car will enable the automaker to “create applications that are about making the car more useful and more productive…less expensive and more enjoyable to drive and own.” These apps, along with those created by third-party developers, would likely revolve around entertainment, navigation, maximizing fuel economy and managing vehicle maintenance, he said. Some could allow the vehicle to forge its own remote communications connection with the owner’s smartphone, he added — for instance, to enable a rear–facing camera in the vehicle to shoot a picture or record a video and forward it to the owner if the vehicle is tapped by another being parallel parked behind it.


Photo Credit: General Motors Co.

Of course, because it will be built in to the vehicle, this 4G LTE service also will be additional to whatever cellular service the vehicle owner may already use with a smartphone, tablet or portable computer — and will have its own associated subscription costs after a free trial period. The length of that trial period and the subscription costs are still to be determined. “We expect to have a variety of different packages based on customers’ different needs and different amounts of data that they’re likely to consume,” Ross said. The packages are being devised by both GM and AT&T cooperatively, he said.

A multi–year deal..and a global rollout

The multi–year agreement between GM and AT&T also specifies that the carrier’s in–vehicle 4G LTE service will be used for all of a vehicle’s built–in voice calling services, such as OnStar’s safety and security services, according to AT&T.

Neither company disclosed the exact contractual and financial terms of the agreement.

However, GM’s Ross did add that the automaker will be using only AT&T’s 4G LTE technology — and will no longer use Verizon Wireless 2G technology — in all newly redesigned 2015 models, which will start arriving at dealerships in 2014.

Most Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC models will be redesigned for the 2015 model year, so by the end of the model–year only a few will remain with Verizon’s slower–speed technology installed, he said.

As well, “We do have an intention to put these kinds of high–speed connections in GM vehicles around the world” with other cellular service providers that are not yet determined, Ross said. “Those plans are being put together right now.”

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