High-speed vehicular connections by 2023
Last week, General Motors (GM) and AT&T announced a partnership to launch 5G connected vehicles over the next decade. At launch, GM will provide access for its partners to connect over AT&T’s 5G network, enabling the delivery of future mobility services.
AT&T claims that its 5G network is the largest in the US, covering about 250 million people, although T-Mobile and Verizon have also made similar “best 5G network” claims in one way or another. The devil, however, is in the details. AT&T’s current 5G spectrum is mostly reused 2G and 3G airwaves in the 850 MHz low-band spectrum, which creates very good wireless coverage but with limited bandwidth. Although AT&T recently acquired some sought-after and faster mid-band spectrum in the 3.7 GHz spectrum — commonly referred to as C-band, and otherwise known as 5G band n77 — it won’t put the new frequencies to use until the end of 2021 at the earliest.
GM was one of the pioneers in offering connectivity features in vehicles when it launched its OnStar service in 1997. OnStar subscribers can summon help on demand in both simple and serious situations. The car-maker currently offers its OnStar and Connected Services to more than 16 million customers in the US and Canada.
GM has offered built-in LTE connectivity in selected vehicles since 2014, but 5G speeds will enable automobile manufacturers to create a new ecosystem of connected functions and services. AT&T says that it will bring 5G connectivity to millions of GM vehicles starting with 2024 models.
A stated goal of the collaboration is to launch the world’s largest fleet of 5G-enabled vehicles. Vehicles have notoriously long design cycles, so current LTE connectivity modules will continue to be built into new GM cars for years to come, and the new 5G-enabled modules to be installed into GM cars in 2024 will need to be future-proofed for at least a decade after that.
GM is not the only automaker that is working with AT&T for connected cars. Earlier this year, AT&T and Honda brought more content to the WarnerMedia Ride app and made it compatible with more vehicles. The entertainment app uses unlimited in-car Wi-Fi provided by AT&T. The partnership, which began in 2017, was extended to allow access to more than 1,000 hours of live and on-demand entertainment including the Cartoon Network, CNN, HBO Max, TBS, TNT and TruTV. The app allows multiple profiles and parental supervision to restrict access to material.
The collaboration with GM is just one of AT&T’s many 5G-related activities. They include the recent introduction of millimetre-wave 5G at major airports in US.
For GM, the progression to 5G is essential to its over-the-air update strategy, which is central to its growth. The collaboration will improve overall customer experience, make faster connectivity more accessible and help build a strong infrastructure for future updates, including GM’s Super Cruise and Vehicle Intelligence Platform. Other emerging standards such as cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) communications may also use this connectivity and add to overall vehicle safety.
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