How wireless carriers are trying to get into your car

The car business is changing at a rapid rate, due in no small part to more technology integration. Companies like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are all vying for control over the car business, reasoning that people are in cars, desiring of services, and with their networks, they can provide it. For years, T-Mobile and AT&T have made their play for the car industry by partnering with carmakers and delivering in-car Wi-Fi. T-Mobile, for instance, provides in-car Wi-Fi for Audi, allowing users who want to pay each month the ability to have a built-in Wi-Fi experience from within their vehicle. AT&T offers similar options with its own contracts with carmakers.

The idea behind peddling service with cars is simple. The world is changing and people want to be able to work from their vehicles. Unless their smartphones have a Wi-Fi hotspot connection attached to their smartphones or tablets, connecting to the Web on most computers can be nearly impossible. Turning your car into a Wi-Fi hotspot, however, makes it not only more appealing for computer owners, but also adds some extra functionality for workers on the road.

Still, connecting a car to a carrier network is by no means groundbreaking. Indeed, it's been around for several years. It's in the add-on services that both AT&T and Verizon offer, however, that may end up tipping the scale and eventually prompting a major new revenue stream for the company.

Consider, for example, Verizon's hum, a device it announced recently that connects to over 150 million cars dating back to 1996 and provides diagnostics through Bluetooth to a smartphone app. The feature is similar to OnStar, giving users alerts to issues in their car, as well as concierge service and a function that automatically alerts emergency responders in the event of a serious crash. It also provides quick, location-based information to mechanics in the event of an issue.

The secret sauce in Verizon's hum is that it works on so many cars. Verizon isn't using a proprietary platform to coax users to its service; it's just plugging a device into an industry-standard plug. Plus, it's adding a bit of a luxury feel to a car that may have never offered it. Verizon, in other words, is doing something different – and potentially profitable – to attract drivers.

AT&T is in a similar position with its own platform, called Car Connection 2.0. With that feature, which also runs as a mobile app, users can do everything from block texts, provide alerts when driving at a fast speed, and dole out vehicle maintenance notices. The service even includes roadside assistance. It's an add-on to the company's other partnerships with the likes of Audi, Cadillac, GMC, and Volvo, among others.

Regardless of the way in which AT&T and Verizon are infiltrating your car, it's important to acknowledge that they're doing it – and have no plans of stopping.

Historically, the car business was simple. Consumers bought cars from established dealers, they had their cars fixed by those dealers or third-party mechanics, and that was it. But as cars have become smarter and self-aware, the technology industry has moved in on that territory. Now, carriers want a piece of that pie by making customers believe – rightfully or not – that they need to be there as a services provider.

It's ultimately difficult to tell whether the companies may be successful. On one hand, in the grand history of automobiles, they're newbies to the space. However, carriers have found ways to become integral parts of our lives and being an automobile solutions provider – whether it's through simple networking or full car maintenance and assessment services – may just be their next act. The times are a-changing. And no less than Verizon and AT&T to thank for it.

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