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The Next Big Thing
Embedded 4G in cars: Why it's importantBuilt-in 4G wireless is coming to cars. CNET's Brian Cooley tells you the benefits, the challenges, and what it will cost you.
[MUSIC] Cars are taking their place in the internet of things and jumping straight to 4G to do it. [MUSIC] Think of it as the car having a guardian angel driving with you. Very responsive touch screens, rich graphics, you can watch a Netflix movie from the back. When you're drawing upon things in the cloud it happens very quickly [MUSIC] Now, you may have noticed that cars have been connected for a while. But typically, today it's through a kludgy tether to a smartphone and, even then, running on the older 3G network. The big trend I'm talking about is integrating that wireless connectivity right into the car, no phone involved, and doing it on the much more capable 4G network technology. [MUSIC] You have screens in the car that really need to catch up to what the consumer expects from their phone and tablet today. With things that Google Maps in the car, even Google Earth with satellite imagery, really enhancing that driving experience. Hey, sis. Your [INAUDIBLE] It also gives that persistent connection to the vehicle, so they can always be online and always have availability to connective services. Whether you're doing searches, whether you're trying to get real time data for traffic, or for parking. I think we'll start to see taking place, from the car as well. Before you see things like fully autonomous drive, these things really can't happen, without a real robust connectivity. Now 4G in cars nails three things from a technology point of view. The first is, persistence. You get in the car, you turn on the key, and that connection's there every time. Tethered, data phone connections tend to be a bit more tenuous. Not every driver has a smartphone, not every driver pairs them, not every driver has the apps that connect with the head unit. It's a kludgy mess. The built-in 4G and the built-in apps in the dash are a much cleaner, robust solution. The next step is speed, 4G in cars should be transformatively faster than the 3G in most phones still, and not just evolutionarily so, it's a real deal changer. And this is also going to be sort of a late mover leg up for cars, because they're going straight to 4G for the most part as opposed to dawdling with built-in 3G. And finally, there's integration. A built-in 4G connection can tap into more of the car's actual sensors and systems than a tethered phone is allowed to. That means things like vehicle location, vehicle health, status of various systems. All that can be brought into the connected car experience, which your phone just can't deal with. Now the fruits of these technology integrations are many. My favorite is cloud based navigation. Among the features here is to have photorealistic maps that arrive quickly. Being able to look at a street view image and pan through it smoothly. And being able to do rapid clod based search to what you're looking for. As opposed old tired address and POI based search. Next up is Streaming media, with that constant, always there connection, consumer and driver habits will change, and start to count on streaming media more, almost as reliably a radio or CD usage. And, this also means 4G can give us reliable video streaming to the second row. No more of those few DVD's your kids are sick of. Then there's integrated calling. Right now most of us pair our phone and that's how we get our calling done, that works well, but going forward with integrated 4G, the car will be one of the first platforms to have what's called HD voice, that means you'll get much higher fidelity in your calls, which helps in that noisy environment. And something called, duplex calling, where when you talk at the same time, with someone else, you won't step on each other, it'll be more like a landline, where you can talk at the same time, that's a nice innovation. In car hot spots. Now these have been around for a while, but with 4G, they'll finally be able to credibly support several devices connected all at one time through the car's hot spot. In the past, that was basically a pipe dream. I'm still not so sold on this, as I think car makers want to push to the world of you using the in dash services, which have much more rich data for them than just providing a dumb pipe for you to connect your iPad from the back seat. Finally, there are over the air updates. A constant 4G connection will encourage carmakers to start doing these, like you've given your smartphone or tablet once a year. Look at what Tesla's done with these sorts of things. They've rolled our new updates over the air, they have changed infotainment services, they'd have allowed the sunroof to operate differently, they even added a new drive feature. The creep function, when you lift off the brake, like most automatic transmissions, they added that to the car. With a software update over the air with integrated wireless. Now, where does this stand in the real world? Okay, the 2015 Audi A3 sedan is generally credited as being the first mainstream car in showrooms that offers built in 4G and at a low end model, notice, not a high end. Move to Chevrolet next, which is about to put 4G availability in most of its 2015 cars from large to small. That will go along with Siri eyes free, for example. To start to move things toward a much more Smartphone like cabin. And then a few years, most GM brands will have 4G available across most of their models. IHS Automotive currently forecasts a rather modest 1.2 million cars with built in 4G on the road globally by the end of 2015. But look at just 2 years later. In 2017 that's 16 million cars. Analasys Mason projects half of all cars on the road will have built in connectivity by 2024, and nearly 90% of new cars selling by that year will have it as well. Now the biggest hurdle I hear from consumers is often privacy and data harvesting. Tracking, they often say. This should map very much to the way other devices have been used as data probes in our lives. And let's face it, our phones are doing that already. But monitor carefully what's happening with a different set of regulations here. Because auto makers are more highly regulated than most mobile device manufacturers. Secondly, there's an additional data plan. Right now, it's 15 to 20 bucks a month, give or take, after an initial trial period, for you to have this 4G lit up in an Audi or a General Motors car. Other car makers may change that a bit, but that's kind of where we are right now. In the future I think that will trend towards zero. The data there is so valuable to the car maker and they want to get a major uptake of this technology that it would make sense to knock down any cost hurdles. Additionally, they are more than likely to sell or share the data from your car in the aggregate with third party partners. To again, rub down the price for them so they can get it to you for nothing. But consumers don't want another wireless account and fee, that much is clear. So there could also be a bundling strategy, because many of the major carriers are also the ones who are sort of silently powering this connectivity in vehicles. [MUSIC]