AT&T boasts 1M unlimited data customers using connected car hotspots

Connected cars
Connected and autonomous cars promise to potentially prevent auto accidents with collision-avoidance technology. (U.S. Department of Transportation)

AT&T said that in the third quarter, it added more than 2 million connected cars to its network, for a total of nearly 24 million. Moreover, the company said that it recently passed the milestone of 1 million customers in the U.S. and Canada “for our retail Wi-Fi data plans for vehicles across our portfolio of global brands,” AT&T’s Chris Penrose wrote in a post on the company’s site.

Further, Penrose added that “since the introduction of our connected car unlimited plans in 2017, our subscribers have used more than 45 million gigabytes of data. That’s enough for more than 100 million hours of streaming video.”

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Penrose’s lengthy post on the topic of AT&T’s connected car business helps underscore the significant investment AT&T has made in the space. For years the operator has been working diligently to develop connected car products and services and, more importantly, ink agreements with more than two dozen auto brands including Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, GMC, Honda, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Tesla, Vauxhall, Volvo and VW.

A number of those automotive companies physically install an AT&T LTE modem into their cars, thus giving customers an option to pay AT&T $20 per month (or $10 per month for existing customers) in order to create a bubble of Wi-Fi connectivity using AT&T’s LTE network for backhaul. (AT&T said it may slow network speeds for customers who use more than 22 GB per month.)

For those motorists who don’t have a car equipped with an AT&T modem, the company recently introduced the Harman “Spark” device that plugs into the on-board diagnostics port (OBD II) in most vehicles built after 1996 and provides Wi-Fi connections alongside vehicle diagnostics and security. (AT&T’s Spark arrived on the market years after Verizon launched its similar Hum device and T-Mobile began selling its SyncUp Drive device.)

Indeed, such products have turned into big business for the nation’s wireless operators. Chetan Sharma Consulting recently reported that fully 90% of the U.S. wireless industry’s net customer additions in the first quarter of this year came from connected cars and IoT devices.

But, as Penrose noted, cars with LTE connections are just a part of AT&T’s larger automotive ambitions. For example, he said the company connected more than 3 million fleet vehicles as of the third quarter for small business, enterprise and government customers. He also said AT&T’s efforts are global, currently spanning connections in 57 countries.

And AT&T’s connected car efforts also stretch into 5G and autonomous cars. Penrose pointed out AT&T works with the 5GAA, Automotive Edge Computing Consortium and Auto-ISAC on such technologies, and teamed with the American Center for Mobility on a testing facility outside of Detroit for self-driving vehicles.

“Now we’re on the cusp of the next chapter that will be transformative—and connectivity will play an essential role,” Penrose wrote. “We’re working with car manufacturers to put the pieces in place for totally automated cars that will make the roadways safer and more efficient, reduce traffic and give us more time for living. And 5G will open the door to new business models and new experiences.”