Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY
General Motors is announcing Monday that it's teaming with AT&T to bring snappy 4G connectivity to most of its vehicles by 2014, allowing for the kinds of in-car technologies that used to be the stuff of dreams.
With 4G, GM says it can bring streaming video to the back seat without the need to lug along DVDs. Cars will have Wi-Fi hot spots that handle multiple devices. And navigation systems will grow more sophisticated and display faster.
"It shows that GM is serious about the connected vehicle," says Thilo Koslowski, a vice president specializing in automotive technology for Gartner. "It's a pretty big commitment."
And a risky one, because embedded technology in cars can get outdated - and drivers are stuck with it. GM rival Ford Motor, by contrast, is still pinning its connectivity strategy on its Sync system, developed with Microsoft, which works through a motorist's smartphone and other devices. Every time a driver gets a new phone, he or she is conceivably able to use the latest generation of technology.
But GM isn't worried. A 4G system embedded in a car can move data 10 times faster than today's 3G systems, and the sky is still the limit on apps that can be derived from it for motorists, the automaker says. "You are future-proofing your vehicle" by going to 4G, says Phil Abram, GM's chief infotainment officer, because there is so much untapped potential.
With the 4G system, he and Glenn Lurie, AT&T's president of emerging enterprises and partnerships, can envision a car with the ability to contact owners on their smartphones to inform them remotely of a parking-lot accident - and then display a video recording of the collision. Or drivers could receive more early warnings about a vehicle's mechanical trouble based on sensor readings from a car's computers.
The 4G system will be available starting next year on most model year 2015 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac cars and trucks.
Luxury brands such as Audi and BMW have also indicated interest in bringing 4G systems to cars. But GM, as the nation's biggest seller of vehicles, says it will have the largest deployment of such systems by far in the U.S.
AT&T will work with GM on the system. Terms and pricing haven't been announced, but AT&T officials express enthusiasm.
"We view the 'connected car' as a very big opportunity," says Lurie.