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GM, Audi Roll Out 4G LTE Plans: The Car Goes High-Speed (Data)

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Chevrolet cars now with 4G LTE capability

General Motors [NYSE:GM] has announced at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that it will be installing high-speed 4G LTE data connections—including hot-spot capability—into the majority of its Chevy vehicles within the next year, with the rest of automaker's vehicle portfolio to follow within a couple of years.

It's an important point in infotainment development and vehicle connectivity, for a mainstream brand to make such a commitment to connectivity. Only Audi, teaming with T-Mobile, as made such a large-scale deployment of embedded data systems so far—as we've tested in 3G form in an Allroad wagon among others.

Audi is also moving to upgrade its embedded data services to 4G LTE, beginning with the introduction of the 2015 A3 this spring.

Vehicle as platform

Looking forward, GM considers the vehicle as a platform for content, moving forward, with the content itself provided by personal devices but the primary connection through the vehicle.

The high-speed data service will be offered as an extension of the company's OnStar platform, and branded OnStar with 4G LTE. And it will have the capability to both connect in-vehicle services and allow a wireless hub for personal data devices and accessories.

The embedded vehicle connection may prove useful on several counts. Firstly, with families facing data caps on some devices, and mapping and navigation apps known as 'data hogs,' this would (depending on pricing and plans, yet to be announced) keep data use for such things with the vehicle.

A faster, more reliable connection than through smartphones

Secondly, it should provide a far more consistent—and often faster—connection, especially in places (like on Interstate trips) where you're often passing from one fringe cell-tower signal to another. Although the data connection through the OnStar service won't be theoretically any faster than existing LTE service to your smartphone, it will be considerably faster for data throughput in real-world use, a GM official told us. That's because these GM vehicles will employ a fixed transceiver and exterior antenna and be able to essentially keep the connection fast even where handheld devices are struggling with one bar.

The speeds provided to those who connect to the wireless hot spot, GM says, will be about a hundred times faster than those provided through current 2G speeds for OnStar services.

Will allow easy app downloads (and upgrades)

Coordinated with the roll-out of the new system will be an expanded version of MyLink services, with an AppShop taking advantage of the connection speed and allowing direct download of apps to your vehicle; the list of planned apps currently includes iHeartRadio, Slacker, NPR, TuneIn, Priceline.com, The Weather Channel, Cityseeker, Eventseeker, Glympse, and Kaliki—as well as a fully networked vehicle diagnostics app.

GM will, over time, be building the embedded 4G LTE connection into most of its North American lineup—everything from entry-level hatchback to Cadillac flagships—and it's part of so-called ‘Gen 10 hardware’ for OnStar.

Corvette, Impala, Malibu, and Volt (and Trax in Canada) will be getting it this summer; more models (Equinox, Silverado, Silverado HD, Spark, and Spark EV) will follow this fall.

Pricing and data packages for the feature will also be announced this summer.

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