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Tesla taps AT&T to bring cellular connection to its cars

The connected cars will be able to share performance data for remote maintenance, as well as provide Internet access in the vehicle itself.

Tesla Model S. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Tesla will be able to tout one more feature in its advanced electric cars: a cellular connection.

The upstart automaker has partnered with AT&T to bring a 3G or HSPA+ (what AT&T calls 4G) connection to its electric cars. With a modem and SIM card, the cars will be able to share performance data, allowing for better remote diagnostic and maintenance, while passengers have the option to browse the Internet, watch videos, or get real-time traffic info via the connection.

AT&T had previously supplied the Model S with a cellular connection, but that was largely for "infotainment" purposes. Tesla plans to do more with the connection down the line.

Tesla is the latest auto maker to go public with a deal with AT&T, following big contract wins from the likes of General Motors and Nissan. With growth in the core cell phone service slowing, it's eager to find a new revenue stream.

AT&T's senior vice president of devices, Chris Penrose, announced the deal at GigaOm's Mobilize conference in San Francisco on Thursday.

The connection also will allow Tesla engineers to look at driving data from the car and better analyze performance trends, system enhancements, and driver preferences.

Corrected at 11:46 a.m. PT The original article said Tesla cars would get a 4G LTE connection. That is not the case.