General Motors is going to be the first automaker to put 4G LTE mobile broadband in cars and trucks worldwide. One might think of it as OnStar crossbred with an iPhone, or maybe an iPhone on wheels. The company says most 2015 model Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac models in the United States and Canada will get the service via AT&T, and that worldwide carrier and supplier relationships in coming months will put the service in brands like Opel and Vauxhall.
As Wi-Fi hot spots, the vehicles will get new infotainment options like streaming video entertainment in the back seat, real-time updates and faster application downloads, per the company. Jesse Toprak, head of industry analysis at TrueCar.com, notes that it's a major detour from the established platform epitomized by telematics systems like Ford's Sync, where the in-car technology serves as a kind of landing strip for whatever mobile device a driver (or passenger) brings into the car: smartphone functions, apps and services.
"GM was also moving in that direction on vehicles like Spark, where the interface was fueled by apps. So even for GM it's a bit of a departure," says Toprak. He adds that the benefit of smartphone-based technology is that it shifts the "heavy lifting" to the mobile device. "All of us live with smartphones, and that's probably sufficient as long as the experience is seamless to the end user. The advantage [of 4G LTE] is it will really increase bandwidth to allow things like streaming video for passengers. But I'm not sure how much of a market there is for that."
Mary Chan, GM's VP of the automaker's global connected consumer division explained in a statement that the platform actually does make the car its own de facto smartphone on wheels. “In addition to allowing consumers to bring in and connect to personal mobile devices, the vehicle will also act as its own mobile device, enabling embedded vehicle capabilities.” She suggested that the collaboration with AT&T and developers will make the platform scalable.
Paul Eisenstein, autos editor for NBC and president of TheDetroitBureau.com, tells Marketing Daily that for the new technology to get real consumer traction, it must be a whole lot more than just an on-board hotspot. "It's worth it if I'm looking to have advantages beyond just a Wi-Fi in my car. If all I'm going to be able to do is hook up a cell or tablet, it's just not that valuable. If it adds a lot of features -- if by this you have created a whole network of things I can do behind the wheel -- then it's worth it."
The company said the 4G LTE connectivity will, in fact, offer an ever-growing ecosystem of features -- some that transcend the kind of benefits you get from portable smart devices. "The key is," says Eisenstein, "while it's a cool concept, will it really matter?"