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AI/Automation

Ford begins sending software updates over AT&T's 4G network

Ford announced a new program that will allow it to routinely update the software in its automobiles remotely, allowing the company to fix software bugs, improve motorists' experience and charge for extra services with the click of a button.

Importantly, the updates will be delivered to millions of Ford vehicles over AT&T's 4G LTE network.

The announcement helps to crystallize a wireless, software-based automotive future that both companies have been discussing for years. Indeed, Ford said that it has already used its new "Power-Up" software update program to remotely tweak 100,000 F-150 and Mustang Mach-E vehicles across the country.

In the background

For Ford, the announcement puts the automaker in line with rivals such as Telsa, which have been remotely updating the software in customers' cars for years. However, Ford is one of the biggest automakers in the world, and its entry into the space promises to take cutting-edge automotive technologies mainstream.

"Many Ford Power-Up software updates will be virtually invisible to customers, enabled by a tech platform that installs much of the new software in the background," Ford noted in a release, promising to produce 33 million vehicles with Power-Up capability by 2028. "For updates that require reboots, Ford invites customers to schedule them at convenient times, such as overnight. Some updates can be made in under two minutes, while others may take longer. Unlike updates for devices such as laptops which often seem to come at inconvenient times, vehicle owners may not even notice that the installation occurred until the vehicle is started."

A Ford representative confirmed to Light Reading the updates would be delivered over a 4G LTE network but declined to identify AT&T as the operator delivering that software. However, in its release Ford warned that the feature requires "compatible AT&T network availability."

Added Ford, in an apparent nod to operators' gradual move from older networking technologies to 5G: "Evolving technology/cellular networks/vehicle capability may limit functionality and prevent operation of connected features."

'Some are big'

For AT&T, the deal helps to reinforce the company's early embrace of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and the automotive industry specifically. In its most recent quarterly report, AT&T counted fully 83 million "connected devices" on its network, noting that such gadgets include "data-centric devices such as session-based tablets, monitoring devices and primarily wholesale automobile systems." Connected devices comprised 44% of all AT&T customer connections, including smartphones, in the first quarter of this year.

A Ford representative declined to specify how much AT&T bandwidth the company might use for its updates, noting only that "some are big." That's likely why Ford said updates might be delivered overnight, when AT&T's network isn't loaded with its smartphone customers' Netflix binges.

Although Ford and AT&T have long worked together – AT&T announced in 2016 it would power up to 10 million Ford automobiles – the companies have not discussed the terms of their relationship. However, Ford is undoubtedly paying AT&T for access to its network, and presumably is paying extra to deliver hefty software updates.

And why might Ford be willing to fork over extra money to reach customers who already own its vehicles? The company offered a hint in discussing its Co-Pilot360 autonomous driving technology "that adds BlueCruise hands-free highway driving to Intelligent Cruise Control."

Said Ford in its release: "This will be delivered to properly equipped F-150 and Mustang Mach-E vehicles with additional software purchase later this year."

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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