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GM goes 4G to alter road tests

Automotive News reports on GM's initial embrace of Verizon's 4G technology.

Automotive News

DETROIT--General Motors Co. will use Verizon Communications Inc.'s 4G LTE wireless network to reshape the way it tests vehicles at the Milford Proving Grounds in suburban Detroit. The company also could tap the 4G network to improve OnStar.

Currently during a road test, an engineer captures raw data from sensors on a laptop inside the car. When the road test is finished, the engineer must drive back to a home base at the proving grounds and upload the data to servers for analysis.

That will change. "With 4G, you can upload and download data wirelessly in real time on the road," says David Poirier, GM services information officer. Verizon is launching the 4G network in suburban Detroit and 37 other major metropolitan areas by the end of the year. Poirier says adding 4G wireless service is "within the scope of current contracts" GM has with Verizon.

Less lag time

4G LTE--for long-term evolution--will be about 10 times faster than current 3G networks, lowering the lag time when a network communicates with a machine. This lag time accounts for the delay, for instance, in downloading a video onto a laptop or cell phone. Less lag time is the key feature enabling GM to adapt 4G to road testing.

Keith Redlin, global enterprise manager at Verizon, says lag times at GM's Milford Proving Grounds will be lowered even further by a network that will be closed to the public. Verizon has installed a receiving tower on the property.

Poirier expects a fourfold benefit from integrating 4G with vehicle testing: faster vehicle design cycles, more tests with fewer vehicles, improved reliability and quality of testing, and better allocation of engineering resources.

Ultimately, road tests are done to detect failure, and in-car equipment used to monitor everything from passenger comfort to traction control can add considerable weight to the vehicle.

"Test equipment changes the car, and it means you are not testing the actual production vehicle," Poirier says. Over time, vehicle design could evolve to fully capitalize on 4G capability and allow engineers to stream data for analysis without extra test equipment. That would enhance the accuracy of the test results.

Poirier says the ability to stream data in real time also means it will be unnecessary to employ a highly skilled engineer inside a vehicle while it is being tested. Instead, engineers can make more productive use of their time by focusing on data analysis

Beyond test drives

GM may tap Verizon for uses beyond test drives. A 4G network potentially could enhance GM's OnStar telematics services. OnStar is currently configured on a 1X network using short-messaging-services gateways to communicate with vehicles.

"Higher data capacity opens up new possibilities to put, perhaps, more entertainment or more robust diagnostics into OnStar," Poirier says.

Verizon has purchased rights to a 700 MHz frequency spectrum that would allow the company to provide continuous 4G coverage from coast to coast. But Redlin says Verizon's current plans are to build 4G coverage only in regions where it makes economic sense.

Poirier sees less value for 4G in a manufacturing facility where a traditional Wi-Fi network usually suffices for wireless communication requirements. But he expects that 4G will provide marked improvement in the quality of videoconferencing, especially via smartphones.

(Source: Automotive News)