GM’s cars are going 5G, with the automaker inking a deal with AT&T to bake next-gen modems into models from Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac. It’ll build on the existing deployment of 4G LTE cars that use AT&T’s network for dashboard apps, OTA updates, WiFi hotspot, and OnStar, though General Motors insists that even some current owners could see a speed boost along the way.
Among the pre-launch hype for 5G, automotive applications were regularly cited. 5G’s lower latency and increased speeds would make it perfect for modern connected cars, so advocates and carriers promised, including giving autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles a swifter and more reliable link to cloud and edge processing.
The reality is that we’re yet to see that arrive, and most autonomous vehicle projects seem to be sticking with onboard processing for maximum uptime and reliability. Instead, GM’s implementation will focus on delivering faster, more ubiquitous in-cabin entertainment, whether that be through an installed package or via the smartphones, tablets, and other devices passengers bring with them.
That means faster music and video downloads, swifter mapping and navigation services, and improvements in voice control, GM says. At the same time, AT&T plans to build out its 5G network in a more “roadway-centric” way. The two companies have apparently been testing the 5G hardware and services together for the past two years.
There’s still some work to do, mind. The first cars, SUVs, and trucks with 5G available will be select model year 2024 vehicles. They’re likely to begin becoming available from late calendar year 2023. GM hasn’t said which of its nameplates will get the 5G option first, though it’s worth noting that the automaker has been fairly aggressive at pushing 4G LTE across even its most affordable models, rather than preserving it solely for its luxury cars.
As for those not ready to trade in for a new, 2024 model, GM says there’ll be advantages for existing owners too. According to the automaker, “current 4G LTE-equipped model year 2019 and newer vehicles will experience faster connectivity speeds and many of the same performance benefits of future 5G-equipped vehicles. Current Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac owners in the U.S. with 4G LTE-capable model year 2019 and newer vehicles will easily migrate to the new network infrastructure once available.”
Just as you’d expect, little of this functionality will come for free. While GM currently installs the 4G LTE hardware in the vast majority of its vehicles by default, services like WiFi hotspot require a data plan be connected.