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CES 2014: GM and AT&T Blur Line Between Car and Smartphone

General Motors says 4G LTE will become a standard feature of its Chevrolet car models.

Most 2015 models of Chevrolet will have 4G LTE cellular connections built in to provide Wi-Fi to people inside and nearby, the company announced Sunday in advance of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The first 10 models with the new, optional feature will appear in mid-2014; they will include Chevrolet’s plug-in hybrid, the Volt.

Internet inside: GM says that high-speed Wi-Fi hot spots should be a standard feature of cars. They will be available in most 2015 Chevrolet models.

AT&T will provide the connectivity for those cars and promises close collaboration with GM on technology and services built on top of the high-speed connectivity, a relationship that may mark the beginning of a new wave of innovation—and competition—in the car industry.

GM is the first major automaker to announce specific availability of 4G LTE-powered Wi-Fi hot spots in so many models, but others are likely to follow. Audi is expected to make a similar announcement at CES this week.

Alan Batey, senior vice president of Global Chevrolet, told journalists in Las Vegas Sunday that his company was committed to making high-speed Internet connectivity a standard feature of any car. “Passengers in the back of a car with LTE, for example, could be able to download movies to watch just as they might in their living room,” he said.

Chevrolet owners would be able to add their cars to an existing shared data plan for multiple devices or connect it with a new plan. The exact options and pricing for the new plan will not be announced until later in the year. Up to seven devices will be able to connect to a car’s Wi-Fi hot spot. GM says that it is in talks with cellular carriers in countries outside the U.S., including China, about offering the hot spot feature.

Mary Chan, president of GM’s global connected consumer unit, said that building connectivity into the car rather than tethering it to a phone opens up more useful and interesting applications, and that a car’s more readily available electrical power and larger antenna allow for a more reliable connection. But she acknowledged that any app or function that makes greater use of Internet connectivity risks being distracting to drivers. “We do studies watching people, and we look at things like the number of touches needed to do a specific interaction, and the size of buttons and text on screen,” she said.

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