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TMCNet:  High-speed wireless on the way to all GM vehicles GM bringing WiFi to all wheels

[February 25, 2013]

High-speed wireless on the way to all GM vehicles GM bringing WiFi to all wheels

Feb 25, 2013 (Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- General Motors and AT&T are working together to install high-speed wireless connectivity in all GM vehicles, enabling drivers and passengers to access digital information more quickly.

Officials declined to reveal terms of the deal or what the service will cost, but it's likely motorists will have to pay for it eventually.

GM Vice Chairman Stephen Girsky plans to tell the Mobile World Congress conference today in Barcelona, Spain, that AT&T's 4G LTE services will be available next year in most 2015 models in the U.S. and Canada.

Eventually, GM plans to integrate wireless capability into its vehicles in Europe and elsewhere by working with other carriers.

-- Benefits: Potential benefits from 4G and WiFi in a car If it meets this declared goal, GM would be the first automaker to offer 4G embedded in all of its cars. German automaker Audi last month said it would offer one model with the technology.

"That's a big commitment by General Motors, which I think is pretty telling about how important the connected vehicle is becoming for the auto industry in general," said Thilo Koslowski, analyst with the technology research firm Gartner. "General Motors is understanding that they need to step up their game." GM believes that it can make its vehicles more appealing by integrating high-tech apps and giving passengers high-speed Internet access in the car. For example, they could use 4G to stream video on an iPad, listen to Internet radio or make calls through Skype.

GM and Ford last month invited outside developers to make apps for their cars, much like Apple and Samsung invite private developers to make apps for its devices.

"We've only scratched the surface of what is possible when the automotive and wireless worlds converge," Girsky said.

As part of the deal, AT&T will replace Verizon as the data provider for GM's OnStar services, which will be upgraded from 2G networks to 4G.

Safety on the road The deal comes as safety advocates and some politicians are cracking down on phone use by drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year said it would fight to prevent drivers from performing "tasks not directly relevant to safely operating the vehicle." Dave Teater, senior director of the National Safety Council, said WiFi in the vehicle "has the potential to be a really good thing" because it could help drivers avoid dangerous road conditions and foster communication between vehicles.

But he warned automakers against making it easy for drivers to use mobile devices while driving.

"If we are using WiFi in the vehicle to provide additional opportunity for a driver to not be engaged in the task of driving, then that's a serious mistake," Teater said.

But GM emphasized that it would strongly discourage vehicle owners from using WiFi while driving.

"We're really committed to using this technology in ways that are safe and minimize distractions and keep the driver safe and keeps the rest of the occupants entertained," said Phil Abram, GM's chief infotainment officer. "Technology can be used to solve and reduce some of those distracted-driving issues if applied intelligently." Younger car buyers In-vehicle Internet connectivity is a key element of automakers' strategy to attract younger car buyers. An independent study by McKinsey & Co. found that 55% of those surveyed between 18 and 39 said in-car access to the Internet is important to them, compared to 29% of ages 40-69.

Koslowski said AT&T and GM need to price the services competitively, but high enough to make a profit.

"Consumers are price-sensitive to these types of plans," he said.

The deal also comes as the telecommunications industry is grappling with a fundamental shift in its business model. Consumers are making fewer calls and sending fewer text messages over cell phone networks, making data plans more important. With WiFi in the car, that transition could be accelerated.

"Introducing 4G LTE into GM vehicles is a game-changing opportunity," Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, said in a statement.

Still, auto companies have to be careful not to oversell infotainment, Koslowski warned.

"Not everybody wants to look at videos all the time," he said.

Girsky said GM is betting that demand for and use of Internet connectivity will grow.

"People may question the need, at first, just like they questioned the need for an iPad, or any other new device when it first arrives on the scene," he said. "But, as we've seen, it doesn't take long for people to move from, 'I'm never going to need that,' to, 'How did I ever live without that ' " Contact Nathan Bomey: 313-223-4743 or ___ (c)2013 the Detroit Free Press Visit the Detroit Free Press at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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