GM Goes 'All In' on 4G Connected Cars

CHICAGO -- AT&T is coming off a second quarter in which it added 1 million connected cars to its LTE network, an impressive feat for the carrier, but also for the automaker that's responsible for much of that growth.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) currently has partnerships in place with several car manufacturers, including General Motors , Audi, Nissan, Ford, Volvo and Tesla, which make half of all the new connected cars in the US. GM automobiles account for 1 million of the carrier's 4.8 million total connected cars, according to Terry Inch, COO of Global Connected Consumer for GM's OnStar division. Half of those million are Chevys, he says. (See GM: 10 Car Models on Road With AT&T's LTE.)

Inch came to Chicago this week, bringing two of those Chevys -- brand-new Corvettes -- to show off the car's inclusion of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) CarPlay and Android Auto. Click on the image below for a few snaps of the beautiful cars and, yes, some food pics from the dinner that followed.

Cruising Corvettes in Chi-Town
The 'vettes were as pretty as they were technologically advanced, but my real ride is, unfortunately, pictured behind -- the Chicago El.
The 'vettes were as pretty as they were technologically advanced, but my real ride is, unfortunately, pictured behind -- the Chicago El.

GM is making a big bet on 4G LTE connectivity in its vehicles, with the help of partners including AT&T, Apple and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). In fact, Inch says it's "all in" on 4G with 30 of its 2015 model cars -- and all future 2016 models -- shipping with LTE in North America, LTE cars now selling in Europe and plans to launch in China soon.

GM teamed up with AT&T to add LTE, with 3G fallback, to its cars in February 2013 and officially launched last summer. Inch says that consumers are still getting comfortable with the technology, but they are opting to use it -- and asking for it. (See AT&T Ups the Stakes in Connected Cars.)

In the first 30 days, 70% of people change the SSID and password on the car, suggesting they plan to keep using it. Nearly all -- 99% -- chose to sign the privacy statement, which keeps the connection open for five years, two years after AT&T's three months or 3GB of free data expires, meaning they retain at least the free basic package which has OnStar, remote link and monthly vehicle health checks.

What hasn't yet been clear, however, is how they want to pay for that data. New car buyers can get it through OnStar or, if they're on an AT&T Mobile Share Value Plan, add the car to their data bucket for $10 per month and treat it as just another device on the plan. The problem with that, of course, is that it has the potential to hog all the data from the other smartphones and devices on the plan. (See AT&T Makes GM Cars a Data Plan Add-On.)

Inch admits that a connected car on a Family Share plan could eat up the entire data plan watching videos on one cross-country road trip (but jokes it'll be the most peaceful road trip any parent has ever taken). AT&T hasn't revealed numbers on the take-up of cars on its shared data plans, but notes that of the customers who purchased a data plan after the initial trial period was over, more than 50% chose 1 GB or higher data plans.

For more on connected cars, visit the
dedicated automotive content section here on Light Reading.

Data plan or not, GM is seeing more interest in tying the smartphone to the car. The company's OnStar RemoteLink app saw 20 million transactions, or interactions with the app, in total for 2013, Inch says. Now, with four months still left in 2015, it's already at 60 million, at a rate of 10 million to 11 million transactions per month. Consumers use the app to remotely lock or unlock or even turn on the car, get directions and check the car diagnostics.

Inch said that GM will soon add its AtYourService services for hotels and couponing to the Link app. Via AtYourService, GM customers can locate a hotel and make dinner reservations directly from the app and can receive coupons based on their location, demographics or any other information they opted in to provide. Inch said he expects the number of interactions with the app to exponentially increase when this service is added.

"We are going from diagnostics to prognostics in a 4G world," Inch says. GM expects to realize $350 million of LTE-related profit improvement between now and 2018, ahead of 5G launches, which connected cars are helping to drive. (See 5G: What Is It & Why Does It Matter?)

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

kq4ym 8/21/2015 | 9:49:06 AM
Re: Why are car makers beholden to wireless carriers? I know I hesitate to chose an installed gadget when I can choose another portable device that does the same and is easily upgradable. Maybe when vehicle manufacturers come up with something truly useful and unique I'd choose to go with it even it it costs a bit more. Or maybe there's a marketing road that will lead to very competitive pricing of manufacturer installed devices?
Mitch Wagner 8/11/2015 | 5:37:44 PM
Re: 70% They're kind of like 8-track tapes but not as Starsky & Hutch. 
mhhf1ve 8/11/2015 | 3:52:13 PM
Why are car makers beholden to wireless carriers? I have to wonder why automakers don't want to try to create their own MVNOs or innovative wireless services. Drivers don't necessarily want to use automakers' home-grown tech over smartphones, but I think that's because automakers don't have a great track record for making innovative gadgets. I'm going to stick with a Waze app on my smartphone over any built-in GPS navigation system from an automaker because the features from Waze are so much better. But I might try an automaker's wireless app ecosytem if it offered something I couldn't get on my phone -- like bonded wireless services or something. It'd be so interesting to have a car wireless plan that bonded cellular data from Verizon+AT&T+Tmo+Sprint to get a super fast and reliable connection with the best coverage available from anyone.
Sarah Thomas 8/11/2015 | 1:18:12 PM
Re: 70% What are MP3s?
Mitch Wagner 8/11/2015 | 10:28:06 AM
Re: 70% SarahReedy - "Also, what are cassettes?"

They're MP3s that unravel. 
Sarah Thomas 8/10/2015 | 2:50:32 PM
Verizon and Benz Verizon, which used to provide GM connectivity but lost out to AT&T, also has some telematics news today. The carrier if offering its mBrace Connect smartphone-powered car service complimentary for five years in all model-year 2016 and newer Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

The dashboard is ideal for in-car interactions, but consumers still want to connect to their cars via their smartphones.

Sarah Thomas 8/10/2015 | 1:28:49 PM
Re: 70% I thought that was an interesting way to measure usage as well. Since they are offering the free three months of data, it's an indication of how many tend to keep using it after the trial period.

GM says, anecdotally, that people are starting to ask for connected features when they purchase a new car, but I'd be curious to hear those stats as well. It's such an expensive purchase that I'm not sure how much tech can weigh in. Nice that GM includes it in all models of its cars though, so it doesn't have to be a make-or-break feature.

Also, what are cassettes?
Mitch Wagner 8/10/2015 | 11:13:09 AM

70% of people changing their password is both an intriguing way to measure acceptance AND a gratifying indication that people are taking security seriously. I fear that a significant percentage of customers are using the connectivity and NOT changing their passwords. 

I drooled over the car pix. Our car is an insanely boring 2003 Subaru Forester. It's beige. The dealer called the color "champagne." But it's beige. And it's so extremely disconnected it doesn't even have Bluetooth; I use a cassette adapter to listen to podcasts from my iPhone while I drive. 

I wonder if we'll see any significant percentage of the population buying new cars just to get the latest connectivity options. My father-in-law used to buy a new car every two years or so just because he could. Do people still do that anymore?

Sarah Thomas 8/9/2015 | 11:35:36 PM
Re: Great Idea The Apple demo was pretty compelling. It's simple, a familar interface and the voice controls worked great. That would ruin the whole experience if you're constantly yelling at the system to correct errors in voice commands, as was often the case in the early days, but I think voice control -- and Siri -- has improved a lot.
danielcawrey 8/9/2015 | 3:51:56 PM
Great Idea While the data useage issue is indeed a concern, I completely believe in the concept behind connected cars. 

Automobiles have never been able to be as smart as they are now. And the automakers know that smart features are a really great way to add value to customers and produce revenue for their bottom lines.

I can't wait to see what kind of cool car apps we're going to see hit the market in the next few years. 
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