Ford reiterates opposition to embedded wireless

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BARCELONA, Spain--Just days after General Motors inked a major agreement with AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) to install LTE modems into all its cars starting in 2014, rival automaker Ford restated its general opposition to embedded wireless modems in its cars. Ford instead believes users should connect their cars to the network through their existing smartphone.

"The last thing we want to do is take this [smartphone] thing that updates every 12-18 months and bolt it into a car with a lifecycle of at least 10 years," said Doug VanDagens, global director of Connected Services Solutions at Ford Motor Company. He said users are already paying for the data connection on their phone, and so they shouldn't be assessed another fee for their car to access a network.

VanDagens made his comments during FierceWireless' "Driving the business case for the connected car" event here at the Mobile World Congress trade show.

Glenn Lurie, president of emerging enterprises and partnerships at AT&T, also participated in the event, and argued that a number of different approaches to the market, including embedded modules and tethered smartphones, will be successful.

Specifically, he said software updates could present problems in a tethered scenario, since a user might have to pay for the data charges incurred by the software updates auto makers push to their vehicles. "That's the one thing that worries me," Lurie said.

VanDagens agreed that over-the-air software updates could pose a problem for users who connect their cars to the wireless network through their existing smartphones. He acknowledged that the tethered model will be "attractive to some customers and embedded will be attractive for others." Ford said it does use embedded wireless modules in some applications and noted that it sees embedded wireless modules playing a role in the connected car of the future.

Ford's Sync technology, first introduced in 2007, connects a user's smartphone to their car and powers a range of services through the phone's wireless connection. General Motors is taking a much different approach--this week the automaker inked a deal with AT&T to embed LTE modems into all of its cars. The modems will connect to AT&T's network to power services including streaming radio and video.

Though vendors continue to squabble about the best approach to the connected car market, most agree it represents a huge opportunity. According to Machina Research, 90 percent of new passenger cars are expected to have some form of connectivity platform by 2020. In addition, the firm predicts the connected car market will reach $600 billion by 2020.

Lurie noted that GM's new deal with AT&T will allow the carrier to provide both wholesale and retail wireless services in vehicles. He explained that the wholesale model will allow GM to sell services like infotainment to motorists, while the retail model will allow AT&T to sell connections to those same users.

However, Bryan Trussel, CEO at Glympse, said users will likely avoid in-car services that become too complex. He said motorists will likely want to pay only one vendor once for such services, and users will be scared off by too many pricing and billing choices.

Finally, Lurie and John Horn, president of RACO Wireless, discussed the concept of a "soft SIM." Such a product would allow auto owners to switch their wireless service provider without switching out their embedded wireless module. Horn pointed out that users likely would want to make use of such a technology in order to obtain the best pricing and coverage available, but Lurie said that "every carrier in the world will fight to the death against that."

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Article updated March 4 to clarify Ford's position on embedded wireless modules, in that the company does support the devices in some applications.