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The Car Industry Upgrades to 4G – How Automakers Are Preparing

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The Car Industry Upgrades to 4G – How Automakers Are Preparing

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Cellular communications technology over the last three decades has transformed the way we stay in touch and get information. It has also enabled our vehicles to become ever-evolving GPS devices with new features and capabilities added continuously via over-the-air updates.

But advancing technology sometimes means old technology stops working. Now that cars are connected, automakers are preparing for the 4G network upgrade as the 3G network shut off in the U.S. scheduled for February 2022.

The industry promises to be ready for the swap this time around, unlike in 2007 with the first generation of General Motors’ OnStar that went offline indefinitely following the change from analogue cell networks to 3G.

The swap to 3G

The debut of telematics systems with the launch of OnStar in 1996 enabled drivers to get remote diagnostics, unlock their car when the keys were stuck inside and get help in the event of a collision. But those first systems ran on the original analog cell networks that were shut down in 2007 to allow carriers to repurpose the spectrum for new 3G networks. Owners of those GM vehicles lost connectivity forever.

The same thing happened a few years later when 2G digital networks were decommissioned. At the time Nissan was one of the few automakers to offer an upgrade path, but only for owners of the early Leaf electric sedan, which relied on the connectivity to help drivers find charging stations.

As the number of connected vehicles has grown substantially in the past decade, these impending shifts impact many more consumers. One of the automakers with a solution for at least some of its customers is Audi. The luxury automaker, which is part of the Volkswagen Group, partnered with connected mobility company Mojio and tech giant Bosch for a solution that’ll usher Audi vehicles seamlessly through the forthcoming change.

On-board diagnostics ports

Founded in 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Mojio is known for building adapters that plug into onboard diagnostics, or OBD-II, ports that have been used in all cars since 1996. Mojio also offers smartphone apps and cloud services to provide drivers with vehicle data such as trip tracking and driving statistics.

Mojio’s SyncUP Drive OBD-II adapter offered by T-Mobile provided drivers without an embedded telematics solution access to much of the same functionality offered by OnStar or Hyundai’s BlueLink. It featured an embedded 4G LTE radio that communicated directly to the vehicle through the port. A similar Delphi-built system called Hum is offered by Verizon.

Audi’s plan

Mojio’s new product, called Motion, will leverage Audi connect, the brand’s current connectivity platform, to enable 300,000 eligible Audi vehicles built between 2013 and 2018 with a mixed 3G and 4G connectivity system seamlessly conform to the upgrade. Various infotainment features on these vehicles can download data over a 4G LTE connection, but the telematics elements such as emergency assistance, vehicle location, diagnostics and calling use a 3G connection.

The Mojio solution uses a device that plugs into the OBD-II port to get vehicle data and power, and connects to the infotainment head unit via Bluetooth to enable hands-free calling in the event of a collision, which will now occur over 4G. The device contains accelerometers – a device that measures vibration or acceleration of motion – and uses a Bosch-developed crash detection algorithm embedded in its firmware. Audi has conducted crash testing to validate the detection system.

Other features such as remote diagnostics and stolen vehicle location will continue to connect to the same Bosch-operated call center that provides other Audi connect services, again now using the 4G connection. The Motion for Audi connect device runs on T-Mobile’s network and supports that carrier’s 600 MHz spectrum to get better coverage in rural areas. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but eligible Audi drivers will be able to have the system installed at the dealer level in early 2022.

Audi drivers will also have access to Mojio’s app that collects an array of vehicle and driving data to provide services for customers, including logging trips, finding fuel with real-time pricing and predictive maintenance alerts for battery failure and filter replacement.

Automakers with solutions

Most automakers have some sort of plan to provide a transition for customers compared to when analog and 2G networks were decommissioned.

Subaru is offering some customers a no-cost retrofit of their communications unit to upgrade to 4G. GM has started pushing over-the-air (OTA) upgrades to many 3G-equipped vehicles, but some models will require a hardware upgrade that the company is making available.

Tesla, which has relied heavily on connectivity ever since it launched OTA updates with its Model S in 2012, will charge $200 for early Model S owners to replace the 3G module with a 4G equivalent. Honda will push an OTA update to some of its 2018 and later models that’ll enable connectivity to continue on 4G.

No planned upgrade

Owners of Toyota and Lexus vehicles with 3G radios will lose connectivity when the towers in their areas are shut off as the world’s largest automaker won’t be offering an upgrade path.

Acura and BMW don’t currently plan to offer an upgrade path either. Though Volkswagen is aligned with Audi under the Volkswagen Group, it doesn’t plan to provide customers with a fix or tap into a the Mojio product with a rebranded solution.

Some others, including Volvo, have indicated they’ll offer upgrades but are yet to provide details.