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4G LTE Is Coming To New Cars in 2015

In this article, Jason R. Rich explores how the addition of 4G LTE Internet connectivity within 2015 model year vehicles will impact the in-car experience for drivers and passengers alike. Discover what a "connected car" will soon be capable of.
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In recent years, the features new car buyers often sought included leather seats, a sunroof, an automatic transmission, four-wheel-drive, and cruise control. Today, more and more people want cutting-edge technology within their vehicle, beyond just GPS navigation. As a result, the car manufacturers are scrambling to meet this fast-growing demand with a variety of innovative solutions, the majority of which are being built into a car’s in-dash infotainment system.

Unlike cars from just a few years ago, many of the newest vehicles available no longer have a separate or stand-alone AM/FM radio, CD player, Sirius/XM satellite radio receiver, or GPS navigation system built into the dashboard. Instead, a single interactive infotainment system that’s often equipped with a full-color, touch-screen display, and voice recognition capabilities is being built into new cars.

Within 2013 and 2014 model year cars, seamless integration between the iPhone and the infotainment system built into some GM cars has allowed drivers of the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic and Spark, for example, to tap a button that’s built into their steering wheel to access apps and Internet content stored on their iOS mobile device. Meanwhile, these Chevrolet vehicles, as well as vehicles from several other car manufacturers, can or will soon support Apple’s Siri Eyes Free feature that’s built into the iPhone.

iPhone integration within a vehicle allows an in-dash infotainment system to access and utilize content from the Internet (via a smartphone’s cellular data connection), as well as access data and content that’s stored on an iOS mobile device (such as data from the phone’s Contacts and Calendar apps, or music stored in the Music app). This phone and car integration also allows people to access their emails and text messages, make and receive calls, manage their smartphone’s voicemail ,and tap the GPS navigation features of their iPhone directly from the screen of their vehicle’s infotainment system or using their voice while driving.

Thus, in addition to managing car-related functions, the vehicle’s AM/FM and Satellite radio, as well as GPS navigation, a vehicle’s in-dash infotainment system can link with a smartphone’s cellular data Internet connection to handle many more tasks, including the ability to stream Internet-based radio content to be heard within a vehicle.

Although iPhone integration is a popular feature that first started to be made available in several vehicle models this year, this is only the first step for the vehicle manufacturers in terms of quickly integrating up-and-coming technologies into new cars.

Plans are underway by GM (for its Chevrolet, Buick, CMC, and Cadillac cars), as well as BMW, Audi, and Chrysler, among others, to incorporate direct 4G LTE cellular data connectivity within their respective 2015 model year vehicles. By giving vehicles iPhone integration, as well as a direct link to the Internet via their own 4G LTE connection, the functionality that can soon be incorporated into in-dash infotainment systems will greatly expand.

To begin, an in-dash infotainment system with direct Internet access will utilize its own apps and auto-update itself as needed. The vehicle will also directly stream audio and video content, give drivers remote access to their vehicle (via an iPhone, for example), access online-based GPS navigation functionality with real-time traffic and weather information, plus allow drivers or passengers to access data from the Internet (such as email or text messages), all without needing a separate smartphone within the vehicle.

This same 4G LTE Internet connectivity within a vehicle could also serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot for a wide range of devices being used by passengers, plus dramatically change the in-vehicle entertainment that’s available. Instead of being restricted to just AM, FM, and Sirius/XM satellite radio programming, a vehicle with its own Internet access will offer access to Internet radio and audio streaming services, such as Pandora, or display TV shows or movies that are streamed from the Internet to a screen in the vehicle’s backseat, for example. With the right apps, in-car video conferencing (by passengers) while a vehicle is in motion, through a service such as Skype, could easily be possible.

Starting in 2014, when GM begins adding 4G LTE Internet connectivity to the majority of its 2015 model year vehicles, the cellular data service will be provided by AT&T Wireless within the United States and Canada. The 4G LTE connection will be designed specifically for in-vehicle use and be incorporated into the OnStar system already built into all GM vehicles. AT&T Wireless already has deals in place with several other car manufactures, including Nissan, BMW, and Ford, whereas Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS, for example, are planning to help other car manufacturers release connected cars in the not-so-distant future.

The 4G LTE connection within GM cars will have its own antenna and be linked to the vehicle’s electrical system, which will enhance the coverage and connectivity of the wireless signal. Whether car owners will need to pay extra, in the form of a monthly fee, for the wireless data service to be activated within their vehicle, or if the service will automatically be made available to paying OnStar customers, or all GM vehicle owners for no monthly fee, has yet to be determined.

Just as the iPhone comes with a handful of apps preinstalled, and then additional apps can be purchased, downloaded, and installed onto the smartphone, and in-app purchases for premium content are available through some of those apps, the same business model will most likely be implemented by car manufacturers when 4G LTE connectivity is incorporated into connected cars.

The in-dash infotainment system will have a selection of preinstalled apps, but vehicle owners will most likely purchase and install additional apps from third parties, plus access premium (paid) content. GM believes that by offering connected cars, this will create a lucrative new revenue stream that it hopes will soon be worth more than one billion dollars. GM is currently working with a handful of third-party app developers to adopt popular iPhone apps, like Pandora, Skype, TuneIn, NPR, and BringGo to work with the its various in-dash infotainment systems.

Not only will an in-dash infotainment system that’s equipped with 4G LTE connectivity offer many of the same functions as a stand-alone smartphone, but also efforts will be taken to ensure compatibility between apps, theoretically allowing your future car to wirelessly sync with the Contacts, Calendar, Mail, Messages, and Maps data stored in your iPhone, for example.

At the same time, a smartphone, such as an iPhone, could serve as a conduit for giving drivers remote access to their vehicles. Using the OnStar Remote app right now on their iPhone, some GM owners can use their smartphone to remotely start their car’s ignition, lock or unlock doors, and access vehicle diagnostic information. When a vehicle has its own Internet access, the remote connection between drivers who are not in their vehicle and the vehicle itself will immediately allow for a more robust selection of features.

Just like when using a smartphone, the capabilities of a 4G LTE connected vehicle will require that drivers remain within the service coverage area offered by the cellular data service provider their vehicle is compatible with. Thus, when driving through rural areas or in places in which a signal isn’t available, access to content, data, and other online-based information will not be possible. This could hamper the capabilities of a vehicle’s online-based GPS navigation app or cause disruptions in a streaming radio or real-time traffic reporting service, for example.

If you will soon be looking to purchase a 2015 model year car, when discussing available options with your dealer, be sure that both in-vehicle 4G LTE Internet connectivity and iPhone integration is available if you want to be among the first to experience driving a truly connected vehicle.

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