Automakers are starting to offer data plans tied to specific vehicles, but is there any point to having Internet access through your car?
There are at least three reasons to want a car with an Internet connection. First, it will enhance safety and security features. Second, it will enhance your media experience to bring in web-connected content to your car. Third, it will provide you with up-to-the date information regarding destinations, mapping and other information like gas-prices or Yelp reviews. Let’s take a look at what’s available to car buyers today.
Connected For Safety
GM is an in-car telematics pioneer. Years ago, it began offering OnStar: a safety and security service that was activated when a car’s airbags were deployed. In that situation, OnStar would be able to inform police and paramedics about the state of the vehicle and passengers inside. Since then, OnStar evolved to offer an entire suite of services. It has the ability to help find a stolen car, give turn-by-turn directions without a navigation system and even to connect you with a concierge for advice in navigating an unfamiliar city.
But OnStar wants to improve its services and to do that, it needs better internet connectivity. That’s why in 2015, all GM vehicles will come from the factory with 4G LTE data connectivity.
“With 4G LTE, OnStar can move beyond offering one set of safety and security services and start thinking about new things possible with a high-speed connection,” says Stuart Fowle from General Motors OnStar public communications team. “The move to 4G LTE also creates a new platform for innovation that wasn’t possible with a slower connection.”
Fowle said that the upgrade to a faster connection will make features like the RemoteLink companion app more responsive. The app gives owners the capability to lock, unlock, start and even find their car through a smartphone. Currently, the ability to remotely start or lock the car can take a few minutes, but the change to 4G will allow it to happen much more quickly.
The future holds even more for this technology, but for now it’s limited to OnStar and Wi-Fi hotspots. Using the built in hardware, the car can broadcast a Wi-Fi signal, giving passengers access to the Internet.
The connection is powered by AT&T, but you don’t need to set up an account with the company to be connected. Instead, you pay OnStar because it is considered to be an additional-cost service under their subscription. Anyone who buys one of the new GM vehicles will have three gigabytes of data or three months of free Internet service (whichever is finished first). Following that period, buyers can pot to add data to their OnStar bill for an additional cost.
The packages range from $5 for 200 MB per month to $50 for 5 GB per month. Buyers can also opt for a one-time data pack, like 10 GB purchase to use over a year for $150. If you aren’t a current OnStar subscriber, expect to pay $5 more for the 200 MB or 1 GB data plans. If you currently have a mobile data share plan with AT&T, you can also add your car to the service for $10 a month using the data you already pay.
So GM’s in-car internet solution will help you get more robust OnStar services and a Wi-Fi hotspot feature. However, GM plans to turn your car into the next smartphone.
Announced earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, the AppShop will launch in GM vehicles, allowing owners to install applications on their in-car infotainment systems. A number of Internet connected apps were also announced alongside AppShop. iHeartRadio brings thousands of web radio stations from around the country into the car, while CitySeeker would help you find out more about the attractions and landmarks of the city you’re driving. The PriceLine app would help you book a hotel room from your car.
Staying Up To Date
GM isn’t the only automaker that offers in-car internet connectivity. Audi A3 models with the Audi Connect system also get an AT&T-powered Internet service that offers access a handful of Google-powered features including Google Earth, Google Voice Search and a navigation system powered by Google Maps.
Audi’s system also integrates Facebook and Twitter information and has a web radio app. There are two more unique features for Audi buyers: One is a weather service which will tell you the three-day forecast of any city you want. The other feature allows the car to use a geo-tagged photo as a destination in the navigations system. While the weather function could be actually useful from time-to-time, the picture navigation system seems like a feature no one would use. Audi buyers get six months of free internet service. Following the trial period, you can pay for a six-month/5GB plan for $99 or a $499 30GB plan that’s good for 30 months.
While Audi Connect might seem limited compared to what you have available on your smartphone, the automaker says additional services are coming.
“We will offer more services through the back end of Audi connect and with the 4G LTE tied into a MyAudi account you can choose providers, such as Internet radio and other services customized to each driver,” Audi spokesman Brad Stertz said.
He also said that the LTE connection used with Audi Connect, can provide additional data to the car’s driver assistance software, something that can’t be done with a phone powered data connection.
Outside the Car
Other automakers have different solutions for providing online services to your car, which doesn’t usually come with an additional cost. BMW’s ConnectedDrive, Infiniti Connect and UConnect Access all use mobile phone apps that can interact with the car in order to power the in-car infotainment system with an Internet connection. Of course, these are limited by the availability of your phone’s mobile data connection.
In-car Internet is in its infancy and is still far from realizing its potential. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. After all, the data plans being offered work out to a few dollars per month and the services they unlock are only going to get better.