Matt Hamblen

LTE could cost users a bundle when video is streamed to a GM car

February 27, 2013 12:39 PM EST

General Motors and AT&T have signed a multi-year deal to provide 4G LTE wireless connections to many 2015 GM vehicles, which start shipping in mid-2014.   OnStar safety services and information as well as entertainment will be provided over fast LTE, which can support video applications.

GM officials said that they picked AT&T over Verizon Wireless, which had been GM's wireless provider for 15 years.  The decision was made after an RFP was circulated, and both companies were evaluated on the cost of their service, performance and about 20 other criteria.

The LTE service will be branded as OnStar on board, said Paul Pebbles, global manager of emerging services, in an interview at Mobile World Congress.  He said Verizon's role as the wireless provider for OnStar has been kept invisible from users, which sounded to me like the way AT&T will be treated as well.

What hasn't been decided, at least publicly, is how customers will pay for the service. OnStar today requires a subscription after an introductory period. Glenn Lurie, an AT&T executive, told me that a GM car with LTE might be treated as one of the devices using data in an AT&T's Mobile Share data  plan that currently allows sharing across 10 devices, with an added cost for each smartphone or other device.

I'm worried that video over LTE to a car (over cellular and not Wi-Fi) could mount up some big bills. Huge bills.  A single HD movie can run 3 GB, which can mean the wireless cellular cost just to access that movie could cost $30, an entire month's smartphone cost under an individual AT&T data plan. With Mobile Share (iwith unlimited talk and text) it costs $40 for 1GB of shared data per month, plus $45 for each smartphone. I'd guess that since a car might offer gaming and video viewing to several occupants, it might be valued higher than a single smartphone, thus raising the cost.  

While it sounds exciting to  have video and gaming delivered wirelessly to smartphones and devices, there will be some pretty exhorbitant costs associated with doing so, especially if the connection has to be over a cellular network such as LTE. Today, we seek out Wi-Fi to download video or other rich applications, usually for free. It won't be as easy to do so while out on the highways.  I can just imagine a parent yelling to the kids in the back seat, "Don't stream that YouTube clip until we drive to the Mickey D hot spot! Are you listening to me?" 

Am I wrong about this, or does the future with LTE over cellular to our cars sound expensive? Maybe GM will come up with some better ideas.