General Motors is cutting the cost of its OnStar 4G LTE data plans in half, saying increased customer usage has driven down the cost of technology in the two years since GM began offering a Wi-Fi hotspot inside GM vehicles.
The monthly pricing is now 1GB for $10 per month (was $20), 4GB for $20 (new plan), 10GB for $40 (was $80), and 20GB over the course of one year for $150 (had been 10GB for $150). For vacationers or people taking the occasional long trip, there’s a daily plan: $5 a day for 250MB.
GM has been offering 4G LTE, which also powers its OnStar telecommunications service, across most of its line for about two years now. The Wi-Fi hotspot serves up to seven simultaneous devices, which is adequate except perhaps in an eight-passenger SUV when people have multiple phones and tablets running. It’s the only mainstream automaker with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi across the line.
The embedded connection lets the passengers browse the web and get better connections than through a cellphone because of the roof-mounted antenna. Kids in back can watch movies, and parents up front need to watch how quickly the data is used when Frozen, Minions and Zootopia are streamed back to back to back.
The always-available connection also lets GM offer services on which GM gets a cut: lookup and referrals to a coffee shop or lodging, even bookings done with Priceline. The remote unlock feature (via OnStar, not OnStar WiFi) means you can leave your car at the airport or a parking lot with the key locked inside, and a family member or friend can retrieve the car easily. An OnStar-equipped car can track your driving habits and share it with your insurer, if you choose, in hopes of getting lower rates. GM already has such a deal with Progressive Insurance.
Ford, in comparison, is only now getting into embedded cellular and telematics. It’s been promoting Ford Sync since 2008, where the data connection was through the driver’s cellphone. That made sense was embedded telematics was costly; now the cost of an embedded device is estimated at $100-$200. Last year Ford announced Sync Connect with an embedded modem and WiFi hotspot would be offered on eight 2017 model Fords.
Not surprisingly, the vehicles with the highest data usage patterns are pickup trucks that may be used for business out in the field, away from desktop PCs and fax machines, and SUVs with lots of seats, where it’s likely the back seat occupants are streaming video or audio in addition to surfing the web.
GM says the most data is consumed by owners of the Chevrolet Silverado, followed by the Chevrolet Suburban SUV, then two more SUVs, the Chevrolet Tahoe and Chevrolet Traverse. It helps that Silverado is the second most popular vehicle sold in the US, behind only Ford F-150.
GM dropped Verizon as its cellular carrier in favor of AT&T in 2013. AT&T is the service provider currently for Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, GMC, Jaguar, Land Rover, Porsche, and Volvo. While Verizon is generally the throughput and signal quality champion, and once again the top choice in our sister site PCMag.com’s Fastest Mobile Networks 2016 testing, AT&T has been flexible on its rates offered to automakers. A family that uses AT&T as its cellphone mobile carrier can treat GM OnStar / Wi-Fi vehicles as an additional device on its calling plan.
European automakers have been partial to AT&T in the past because it wanted to stick with the GSM protocol around the world. So far, no automaker has offered to provide you with the same cellular service in its vehicles as you currently have with your cellphones.