May 12 2014, 1:14pm CDT | by Forbes
General Motors and OnStar are trying to leapfrog the rest of the U.S. auto industry with the introduction of their new OnStar 4G LTE capability over a range of dozens of GM vehicles by the end of the year, beginning next month with the 2015 Chevrolet Malibu.
The company hopes to stake itself to a lead in onboard WiFi similar in magnitude to the early advantage grabbed by Ford several years ago with Sync, which was the first major infotainment system to untether automotive connectivity from a hard-wired system like OnStar.
A key part of OnStar plan is a trial period for customers to use three gigabytes of 4G LTE WiFi or experience the system for three months, whichever comes first. The approach is similar to how GM offers OnStar free for a period then begins charging a subscription fee. Once customers begin paying, they can log in for as low as $5 a month. A nifty pricing innovation is GM’s provision for a “one-day pass” on the system in case, say, a family is taking a vacation trip and kids in the back seat want to play video games the whole journey. For existing AT&T customers, a 4G LTE-equipped GM vehicle can be added to a Mobile Share Plan for $10 a month.
Thus GM brands “will be the first vehicle brands to market with 4G LTE connectivity offered on such a broad scale,” said OnStar President Mary Chan in a press release.
Audi actually introduced the first U.S. model with 4G LTE connectivity a few weeks ago, to power a new version of Audi connect in its new A3 sedan. But GM believes its own 4G LTE gambit will quickly be perceived by mainstream consumers as the cutting edge, especially after the company, OnStar and its vehicle brands begin heavily marketing the capability soon.
“Audi has two basic price packages on a single model, and ours is more comprehensive in a number of dimensions,” Phil Abram, GM’s chief infotainment officer, told me. “We will have it available this year on 30 models. And we’re providing not only a data service for WiFi, but also this is part of OnStar” and will enhance the existing 18-year-old OnStar brand and network in the process.
OnStar with 4G LTE brings a built-in- WiFi hotspot into and around the vehicle. Pairable de3vices can include laptops, smartphones, videogame consoles and tablets — up to seven devices at a time. GM said the powerful antenna in the system is stronger than a smartphone’s, and the WiFi operates without draining a mobile device’s battery — and is on any time the car is on.
“We know that consumers want to bring their digital lives into the vehicle with them,” Abram said. “This is a commitment to help them do that. And because we’re offering such a wide range of packages, we expect a fair number will find one that is right for them.”
Availability of OnStar 4G LTE begins with Malibu because it’s GM’s first model-year-2015 launch.
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