If you work with Ray LaHood, you might want to stay out of his way this morning -- not because he lost any Oscar bets (though he might've, we don't know), but because General Motors has announced a deal with AT&T that will bring mobile internet service to millions of GM vehicles next year, if not sooner.
Why would LaHood have a problem with that? While the deal should result in improved safety features on GM cars, trucks, and SUVs, it could also spawn more distractions for drivers -- exactly the sort of thing against which LaHood has crusaded since the day he was installed as U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
GM's agreement with AT&T does two things:
1. It provides 4G LTE access for GM vehicles. 4G LTE is the zippiest version of wireless broadband to date, and what AT&T plans to do is a little like installing a mini cell phone receiver in every GM car.
2. AT&T will also power in-car wi-fi hotspots -- the kind GM has been providing as an option since 2009.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU
Neither GM nor AT&T has provided specifics about the deal just yet, though GM is planning to do so this week in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress. However, a press release from GM gives us a rough idea of how the technology will work.
- AT&T's 4G LTE service will power devices installed on GM vehicles -- devices like OnStar and infotainment systems. That means that your interactions with OnStar agents, in-dash navigation and other apps, and even entertainment services like streaming video (when you're riding in the back seat) will be faster than ever before. It should also have a beneficial effect on software updates, and down the road, it could pave the way for vehicle-to-vehicle communications. LTE isn't likely to improve your cell phone service, since it may be limited to hard-wired devices. However...
- The AT&T-powered wi-fi hotspot will allow passengers -- and, we fear, drivers -- to connect quickly to the web via their smartphones, tablets and laptops. Prefer to use navigation apps on your phone? Undertaking an epic campaign on World of Warcraft? Need to Skype or Google Hangout with your BFFs while dad drives you to the mall? All that should be faster and easier with this new onboard technology.
Though GM hasn't announced pricing for these services, the automaker has said that they'll be available on all four of its product lines -- Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC -- beginning in 2014. In fact, our colleagues at Motor Authority report that they should be available on Cadillac vehicles later this year. Stay tuned.