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How AT&T Will Turn on Car 2 Car Connectivity

by Roger Lanctot | May 20, 2016

Cnet reports that, starting this week, AT&T is offering "Unlimited Plan" customers the option to add connected cars or a ZTE Mobley Wi-Fi plug-in device to their plan for $40/month for unlimited data - $10/month will buy 1GB.  The plan applies to certain Buick, Audi, Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo vehicles equipped with AT&T telecom modules by their manufacturers.

Cnet goes on to note that AT&T stated in its first quarter earnings report that it had more than 8M cars on its network (in the U.S., more globally) and has connected more than 50% of all new connected passenger vehicles in the U.S.  AT&T's dominance of factory-fit or "embedded" connectivity in the U.S. puts the company in the unique position of being able to enable multiple connectivity options for drivers potentially integrating their smartphones, the embedded devices in their cars and/or aftermarket devices - in this case from ZTE and Audiovox.

The current offer is focused on delivering Wi-Fi for families to enable Internet access for children with mobile devices.  Business use of Wi-Fi probably makes some sense as well. The Audiovox offering is skewed toward usage-based insurance and vehicle servicing.

With the new offer, AT&T is opening a window to possibilities that might boggle the minds of its car making customers and their car driving customers. Jaguar and Volvo, in particular, are interesting connected car partners for AT&T because both have been working on solutions to share data between cars.  GM (Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, GMC) and Audi have been slow to embrace the emerging vehicle-to-vehicle communication opportunity but not these two European car makers.

In Volvo's case, the company has been experimenting with sharing "black ice" notifications from one Volvo car to another via cloud connectivity over the embedded modem.  In essence, Volvo cars will share their ABS or ESC data when the car encounters an icy patch and notify following drivers via the LTE connection.

SOURCE: Volvo

 

Similarly, Jaguar is testing an application to notify following vehicles (presumably other similarly connected Jaguars) of potholes or other hazards on the road ahead.  As in the Volvo case, Jaguar intends to use cloud connectivity via the LTE connection.

SOURCE: Jaguar Land Rover

What may be most attractive about these inter-vehicle communications is that they may also be shared with local traffic information authorities.  But this isn't just about road hazards, LTE connections are increasingly being used to communicate the signal phase and timing of traffic lights, variable message sign information and dynamic tolling data to enhance navigation guidance.

Given its unique role in the market, AT&T is in a privileged position to define a new path forward in vehicle connectivity combining smartphone applications with on-board data to enhance the driving experience.  Mobile devices will serve as proxies for embedded connectivity where car companies are dragging their feet in embracing this new connectivity opportunity.

Notably absent from the new AT&T offer are AT&T customers Tesla, BMW, Nissan, Infiniti and Volkswagen.  BMW's absence is especially surprising given the companies embrace and advocacy of wireless cellular connectivity as an inter-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication medium.  AT&T will also soon be adding Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Ford, Porsche, Honda, Acura, and Subaru to its client roster in the U.S.

Like Vodafone in Europe, which dominates the market for embedded connections, AT&T has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the automotive industry forward in redefining vehicle connectivity to include communications between cars - including, maybe, cars from different manufacturers.  It's a tantalizing prospect and one that has not gone unnoticed by Google and Apple.  (As an industry, we're not really going to leave inter-vehicle communications to those guys, are we?)

It doesn't hurt that AT&T has partnered with Ericsson to facilitate these cloud-based connections.  The opportunities only become more fascinating as we prepare for 5G connectivity with its low latency and ability to convert evergy 5G-equipped vehicle into a hub.  Sign me up.

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