Ford to build 4G LTE into all vehicles by 2020

Ford sign at CES
4G connectivity will help Ford’s internal processes to become smarter. (FierceWireless)

Building toward its vision of “smart vehicles for a smart world,” Ford is revamping its automotive lineup to pave the way for over-the-air (OTA) connected car updates and what it calls the Transportation Mobility Cloud. It has also reiterated its plan to include full 4G LTE connectivity to all models by the end of next year.

In tandem with that big push, it plans to replace 75% of its current portfolio with new designs by 2020, adding four new trucks and SUVs and launching hybrid-electric versions of the F-150, Mustang, Explorer, Escape and Bronco. Battery electric vehicle (BEV) versions of some models are also on the table.

All of this of course is a boon for AT&T and other carriers, and it continues what is already a huge growth market: In 2017, cars surpassed phones as operators’ biggest growth area. 

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Adding 4G LTE to the mix comes with a range of use cases, including providing a platform for various third-party over-the-top applications, real-time traffic updates via Waze and other “infotainment” services, remote start or locking and unlocking, Wi-Fi hookups and more.

Wireless communications also mean a more frictionless way for Ford to issue security patches and software maintenance. With most recall issues today existing in software, gone will be the days of bringing the car into the shop to fix a manufacturing flaw; Ford is banking on the ability to proactively push out updates OTA to improve customer satisfaction while reducing its operational costs.

Across this spectrum, connectivity is fundamental to Ford’s plans for its retooled hybrid system and its BEVs, which represent more than a different powertrain, the company said: They also represent a lifestyle change for consumers. Full-vehicle OTA software updates will enhance these models’ capabilities and features, and are meant to be a foundational differentiator to drive interest in green automobiles.

“Throwing a charger in the trunk of a vehicle and sending customers on their way isn’t enough to help promote the viability of electric vehicles,” said Sherif Marakby, Ford vice president of autonomous and electric vehicles, in a release. “In addition to expanding our electric vehicle lineup, we are redesigning the ownership experience to ensure it addresses customer pain points that currently hold back broad adoption today.”

The 4G connectivity will also help Ford’s internal processes to become smarter; as more vehicles become connected, new analytics tools will show which vehicle technologies customers use most often. This new data-driven insight will help determine which features to grow and invest in and which to eliminate; in theory, this will reduce manufacturing complexity and costs, thus improving pricing and building revenue over time.

Further down the road, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication (think vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-pedestrian, vehicle-to-device or vehicle-to-grid) will allow interaction with smart-home and smart-city systems that can enable safety alerts to pedestrians, emergency vehicle alerts, traffic signal priority, parking discovery and so on. Semiautonomous operation (and, eventually, fully self-driving vehicles), forward collision warnings, adaptive cruise control, platooning and much more are all part of the road map too. This set of use cases make up Ford’s Transportation Mobility Cloud vision.

“Our passion for great vehicles is stronger than ever,” said Jim Hackett, Ford president and CEO, in announcing the change-up. “This showroom transformation will thrill customers, drive profitable growth and further build toward our future.”