BARCELONA, Spain--At the Mobile World Congress here, I hitched a ride in a 2011 Audi A8 demo equipped with Alcatel-Lucent 4G/LTE infrastructure.
The 2011 Audi A8 is typically equipped with an integrated 3G Wi-Fi hot spot to support its Google Earth navigation system and up to six device connections. But the 4G hot spot will give users even higher bandwidth for better telematics response and Internet access to support applications such as streaming media. Think live video conferencing from the backseat of the car, which is what we did.
Alcatel-Lucent demoed the 4G capability in the vehicle using LiveCast and Vidyo. As I rode around Barcelona in the back of the A8, I video-conferenced with an Alcatel team following us in another vehicle. Our demo was also broadcast to Alcatel's booth at Mobile World Congress.
This Audi connected to Alcatel's temporary 4G base station in a building about 1.5 miles away from us, and we witnessed speeds of up to 30Mbps. However, there were only a couple of users accessing that base station. In a commercial application, Alcatel says users can expect speeds around 5Mbps. That's a lot faster than the 400Kbps to 1.5Mbps you can expect on current 3G networks.
In my experience, the video quality was excellent, with very low latency. The only limitation was the audio, which was likely due to the microphones being placed too far away from the occupants. What this new technology means for the consumer is better infrastructure to support the infotainment and telematics systems. The high speed connection with low latency will also make it possible to conduct business while cruising around in the A8, hopefully with a chauffeur at the wheel.
An Alcatel spokesperson said the 4G integration in the Audi A8 won't be available until 2014, because the antenna will need to be upgraded, which will also require additional testing. However, Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler announced at the Consumer Electronics Show last month that LTE technology would be used in cars by early 2011.
In the U.S., Verizon has already deployed the 4G network in 38 cities, and AT&T is expected to roll out the technology in July. In China, the LTE network is being tested in six cities, each with 100 to 200 base stations.