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Is Your Car a Smartphone on Wheels?

by Roger Lanctot | 6月 11, 2015

AT&T’s most recent quarterly financials packed a startling revelation. AT&T is now activating more new connected cars than net new postpaid wireless phones.

The trend has played out over the last three quarters thus:

                     Postpaid Net Adds           New Connected Cars
Q1 2015              441,000                                  684,000
Q4 2014              854,000                                  800,000
Q3 2014              785,000                                >500,000

Now we know not all of these new connected car customers are going to convert to paying subscribers. But getting the modems in and turned on and on the road is a huge first step.

Once those wireless connections are in place, the car makers can always manipulate service plans and promotional offers to retain or recover lapsed customers. A good example is GM’s OnStar Global Connected Consumer group which is constantly pumping out offers for discounted personal minutes.  Or, as in the past, offering insurance discounts to customers that return to the fold.

Personal minutes represented such a lucrative business to GM in the early days of OnStar that GM was one of the last car companies to offer Bluetooth connectivity in its cars for hands-free dialing. GM is now in the forefront of smartphone integration even as it adds Wi-Fi via AT&T’s LTE service. OnStar can now offer discounted rates on data minutes AND personal calling minutes - making OnStar, in effect, an operator in its own right.

North American satellite radio and telematics service provider, SiriusXM, has a long history of manipulating packages and pricing to entice and retain customers – good enough to build a 27M+ subscriber base. Built-in connectivity provides the levers to prime the pump and drive usage.

The key for AT&T and its customers GM and Audi and Nissan and Volkswagen and BMW and Ford and Lioncoln and Volvo will be to keep those wireless connections provisioned and generating revenue. Of course BMW has the right idea, with 10 years of free basic service, and GM, too, with five years of remote start and remote door unlock at no charge.

The car is rapidly becoming a smartphone on wheels. Now all we need is all of the same functionality that we have come to expect from a smartphone:

• Free over the air software updates
• App and content downloads
• The ability to turn off location sharing on demand
• The ability to manage privacy settings
• And the ability to change carriers

Regarding that last item, the news out of the TU-Automotive event in Novi, Mich., last week is that Qualcomm is working on an updatable/upgradable wireless module – to account for the changes in wireless networks during the 11+ year life of a new car. Sources say GM is demanding this functionality – so it looks like, as an industry, we may soon be closing the expectation and performance gap between a smartphone and a smartcar.

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