AT&T marks first 5G connected car deal with GM

AT&T nabbed its first 5G connected car deal, announcing an expanded collaboration with GM that will see 5G-equipped vehicles from the automaker starting with select models by 2024.

Over the next 10 years, GM and AT&T said they expect to have 5G in “millions of GM vehicles coming off the assembly line.”

Before the 5G-enabled vehicles hit the roads, part of the collaboration will focus on ensuring backbone network connectivity that can support GM’s plans for next generation connected cars, and eventually autonomous vehicles.

The companies plan to work together to specify that AT&T’s core network can handle future needs of 5G-enabled vehicles, combining GM cars and back office technology and the carrier’s network to implement an end-to-end wireless network, according to a GM spokesperson. Microsoft is also in the mix with cloud services, as it takes over AT&T’s cloud network with Azure for Operators.

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GM isn’t yet disclosing all of the 5G bands that vehicles will support, “but the band support we will have will be diverse and is fully aligned with AT&T’s spectrum strategy,” the spokesperson told Fierce Wireless.

AT&T is currently using lower band spectrum shared with LTE, including 850 MHz, for 5G broader nationwide coverage, with high-band millimeter wave deployments in limited places where many people gather or travel like sports and entertainment venues and airports. Millimeter wave is in select parts of 38 cities and 20 venues.

The carrier plans to start initial rollouts of key mid-band spectrum in the 3.7 GHz band when the first 100-megahertz (40-megahertz of which AT&T won at Auction 107) is cleared and ready for use later this year. By the start of 2024, it aims to reach around 200 million people with C-band, after existing satellite operators have moved out to free up the second batch.

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“By connecting millions of GM vehicles to our nationwide 5G network, we will improve the customer experience for existing services while laying the groundwork for the next wave of innovation including autonomous driving,” said Gregory Wieboldt, SVP Global Business, Industry Solutions at AT&T, in a statement. “We now connect more vehicles than any other carrier and GM has played a critical role in our success. We’re honored to work alongside GM to usher the next chapter of connected driving.”

GM already has 4G LTE equipped cars and said that current Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac drivers with LTE-enabled model year 2019 and newer vehicles can easily shift to 5G capabilities once available. No word on whether the upcoming model year 2024 cars will support cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X).

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Some enhancements the partners called out are roadway-centric coverage; faster music and video downloads with higher quality; quicker navigation, mapping and voice service; and speedier, more reliable over-the-air software updates.

GM has been targeting over-the-air software upgrades as part of its overall strategy and growth plans.

Down the line, GM will also provide strategic partners access to connect over the 5G network. Honda is one of the automakers current partners that will have access to the 5G network, the GM spokesperson said. In 2020 GM announced an agreement to incorporate OnStar services enabled by AT&T’s network into two new all-electric Honda vehicles.

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AT&T has been supplying OnStar LTE service since 2013, and launched in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspots with GM in 2014. Last year, the partners added access to WarnerMedia streaming content in certain existing GM vehicles.

To access in-vehicle Wi-Fi data, GM owners have to enroll in a connected services data plan. Since 2014, GM said drivers across its brands have used more than 171 million GBs of data.