GM cars to be Internet hotspots
Hard-wired, high-speed Web link needs no phone
DETROIT -- General Motors, laying down a high-stakes bet on the future of vehicle connectivity, plans to make each of its cars an Internet hotspot with a high-speed broadband connection.
By mid-2014, GM will team with AT&T Inc. to equip most 2015 models in the United States and Canada with 4G LTE broadband, the fastest type of wireless Internet connection now available. GM says it eventually will offer the service across nearly its entire global lineup.
Most in-car systems now require a linked smartphone to get Internet content such as Pandora online radio or live traffic information. GM's plan to build in wireless capability will untether users from outside devices.
GM's decision is the strongest signal yet that automakers are moving toward embedded solutions, rather than drivers' smartphones, to offer a faster, more-reliable connection to infotainment offerings.
Perhaps just as important, hard-wiring cars with broadband will make it easy to upgrade infotainment units without hardware changes so buyers aren't stuck with an outmoded system a year or two after purchase.
It's unlikely GM's hotspots would remain active when the vehicle is turned off -- providing a household Internet connection from a garage -- but details are still being developed, a GM spokesman said.
"A lot of those types of details haven't been finalized just yet, but like most in-vehicle technologies you can probably expect it to work for a certain amount of time after the ignition is turned off and then time out eventually," the spokesman said today in an e-mail.
"So a customer wouldn't be able to solely rely on their vehicle to provide Wi-Fi for their entire home. Obviously, any route we go, we'd want to make sure it doesn't negatively impact the driver experience, like draining the battery for example, which is what would happen if we left the Wi-Fi hot spot on the entire time."
GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky unveiled the plan today at the Mobile World Congress convention in Barcelona, Spain.
Although GM's proposal is the most ambitious bet on embedded broadband so far, it's not the only one. Audi will offer 4G LTE service on the A3 in Europe this year and in the United States in 2014.
Girsky: Revealed the plan today
Last year Mercedes-Benz launched a system with embedded connectivity for most models, but with slower 3G technology. And Chrysler Group offers an embedded 3G system on three nameplates.
GM's system still will allow for smartphone connections to touchscreen infotainment systems, such as Chevrolet MyLink or Cadillac's CUE system. But the 4G LTE connection will provide new capabilities, such as streaming video for backseat passengers and updating the navigation system remotely.
And because the system will provide a true hotspot, it would provide an Internet connection for such devices as an iPad.
A GM spokeswoman would not discuss cost.
Mark Boyadjis, an IHS Automotive analyst, says continuing to allow users to connect through their mobile devices is important because some buyers won't want to pay both a monthly subscription for their car's mobile service and a cell phone bill.
But Boyadjis says GM and other automakers want their own in-vehicle broadband connections to offer more and faster features, such as live traffic reports. And they want to avoid compatibility problems that can stem from varying wireless standards around the globe.
The technology will be rolled out across most of GM's vehicles globally, said Mary Chan, head of GM's infotainment and OnStar division. In coming months, Chan expects to forge partnerships with suppliers and wireless carriers in other regions.
Said Chan: "GM and our partners have the opportunity to reinvent the mobile experience inside the vehicle."
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