Verizon launches Hum, a smart device for your dumb car

The mobile-app-supported Hum allows people to monitor a vehicle's health and to contact nearby roadside assistance. Out of the box, Hum works with over 150 million vehicles.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

Verizon Hum is now available to customers looking know more about their cars. Verizon Telematics

Verizon Telematics, a subsidiary of the biggest US wireless carrier, has launched a new aftermarket telematics vehicle platform that gives drivers detailed information on their car's health and how to get help in the event of an emergency or car trouble.

Dubbed Hum, the $15-a-month service requires drivers to install a small dongle into their car's onboard diagnostic reader (OBD) port. Almost every car made after 1996 has an OBD.

A Bluetooth-enabled device that ships with Hum is clipped to the car's visor and communicates between the Hum dongle and a dedicated Verizon mobile app. Once connected, the platform will diagnose problems with the car and offers the ability to contact nearby roadside, emergency and stolen vehicle assistance, among other features.

The hardware, which is valued at $120, is included with the $15 monthly subscription. However, customers could be charged for the hardware if they fail to return it upon canceling their service before two years, said a Verizon spokeswoman in an email. Verizon is also offering a "30 day risk-free trial": If customers end their service and return the device within the first 30 days then there is a money-back guarantee.

Hum's launch comes as companies increasingly see value in the tie-up between vehicles and wireless technology. More specifically, companies across the automotive and wireless industries are attempting to connect cars and give owners more control over what's happening with their vehicles. Historically, cars have been enigmas to owners, requiring users to go to the shop to detect issues. Over the last several years, telematics platforms like OnStar have made cars smarter and provided car owners with more information about their vehicles.

Verizon is one of many companies trying to connect cars and make them smarter. The wireless industry -- AT&T, in particular -- has acknowledge the growth opportunities in the car business. AT&T has been working with car manufacturers, such as General Motors and Audi, to embed a cellular radio in their cars. The company is also planning to double down on the space in the coming years.

Verizon argues that Hum, with its mobile app, is far more sophisticated than anything other carriers offer in the space. By tapping around the Hum app, users can get diagnostic information on their car, see where it is, and connect with a mechanic.

Verizon has also benefited from the car industry sticking to a standard OBD port. By creating a device that connects with an industry-standard port, Verizon has maximized the number of cars with which its service can work. The company says over 150 million vehicles support the service.

"Hum is designed to deliver ultimate peace-of-mind behind the wheel," Verizon Telematics CEO Andres Irlando said in a statement. "Now, in addition to being protected with live help and emergency services, drivers will know what their check engine light means and will be empowered with information and knowledge on how to get the problem fixed and what it may cost."

Verizon first unveiled Hum at the Detroit Auto Show in January. At the time, the company called it Verizon Vehicle. It also had hoped to get it on the road by April.

Correction, 4:45 p.m. PT: This story incorrectly stated the cost of hardware for Hum. Hardware is included with the $15 monthly subscription. Customers may be charged for hardware if they fail to return it when canceling their service before two years.