AT&T envisions car-makers sponsoring the data for in-vehicle connectivity

NEW YORK--AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T)  envisions car makers sponsoring the data for in-car LTE connectivity as part of AT&T's Sponsored Data program, according to a senior AT&T executive.

In an interview with FierceWireless here at an AT&T event, Chris Penrose, senior vice president of AT&T's Emerging Devices division, did not say if or when that might happen but said it was a possibility.

"We're not done exploring all the different options," he said. "You heard us announce Sponsored Data earlier this year. I think that can play inside the vehicle."

Penrose also said that restaurant chains or social networking companies are potential sponsors of in-car connectivity, such as using LTE to launch a  Wi-Fi hotspot for Wi-Fi-only devices a customer might bring into the car. "I think there are lot of different billing models that we're going to explore," he said. "We're going to see what's working."

Another possible scenario would be for car makers to offer more aggressive sponsored data packages for certain models or lines of cars, Penrose said.  

AT&T has won several high-profile deals with automakers for in-car connectivity. "We're working very closely with each one of the auto manufacturers to really determine, what do they want their strategy to be around the data and the connectivity in the vehicle," he said. Penrose noted that General Motors offers connectivity starting at $5 per month, while Audi has pricing stretched out over a longer time period and electric car maker Tesla includes the connectivity free of charge.

In May, AT&T announced that customers with an LTE-capable vehicle from GM may add the car as another device to their Mobile Share Value shared data plan for $10 per month, the same price as a tablet. AT&T and GM also unveiled standalone pricing for new LTE-enabled OnStar service from GM, starting at $5 or $10 per month depending on whether the driver is an OnStar subscriber.

GM has said the 2015 Chevrolet Malibu will be the first LTE-equipped GM vehicle, followed by more than 30 other Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles by year-end. GM said these vehicles will have a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot that is capable of pairing up to seven devices, as well as improved access to current OnStar safety and security services. The hotspot is on any time the car is on, GM said.

OnStar subscribers will get access to the following plans:

  • $5 per month: 200 MB of data per month
  • $15 per month: 1 GB
  • $30 per month: 3 GB
  • $50 per month: 5 GB

The pricing for non-OnStar subscribers is the same except the 200 MB plan costs $10 per month and the 1 GB plan costs $20.

GM is also letting customers buy one-time data packages. OnStar subscribers can get 250 MB of data for one day for $5 or 10 GB over the course of 12 months for $150. Non-OnStar subscribers can get 250 MB of data for one day for $5 or 10 GB over the course of 12 months for $200.

Audi AG's in-car LTE service, which is also powered by AT&T's network, starts at $99 for 5 GB over the course of six months. The companies also offer a longer-range plan that they say provides more value, at $499 for 30 GB of data over 30 months. The pricing works out to a little more than $16 per month for each plan, though the 30-month plan obviously comes with more data and a longer timeframe in which drivers can use it. The companies have also said that all Audi A3 sedans equipped with the automaker's Audi Connect service will receive a free six-month trial period. Audi switched to AT&T after working with T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) as its U.S. wireless partner.

"We're really trying to offer up a lot of different options," Penrose said. "What are all of the different things you can do with that connectivity?"

The AT&T executive noted that certain solutions could potentially bring different pieces of data together with LTE connectivity. He said, for example, if the car diagnostics notices that the gas tank is low the car can be automatically programmed to proactively alert the driver to the nearest gas station with the cheapest price. Penrose also said firmware updates to improve cars' software will be a huge opportunity and that car makers should pay for that kind of data. 

The connected car market is still relatively new and targeted at newer, and often higher-end, vehicles. However, carriers and research firms are bullish on the market as more new cars roll out production lines with connectivity built in.

Mobile operator Telefónica just published a survey on attitudes about the connected car industry. The survey forecasted that number of cars with built-in connectivity will grow from 10 percent of the overall market in 2013 to 90 percent by 2020, and that the vast majority of consumers expect a connected experience going forward.

The report is based on a YouGov survey, commissioned by Telefónica, of 5,000 consumers across the United States, UK, Brazil, Germany and Spain. Telefónica, like AT&T, has a clear interest in promoting such findings since it wants to be a provider of connectivity for such vehicles.

However, research firm Infonetics is also high on the connected car market. The firm predicts that revenue carriers get from providing in-car connectivity and other basic value-added services they provide to the automotive, transport and logistics segment will more than triple from 2013 to 2018, to $16.9 billion worldwide.  

For more:
- see this article
- see this Infonetics release

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