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Summary:

The S3 Sportback is the first production car with LTE integrated into the dash — though SIM card is not included. Next spring, the U.S. will get its first 4G car, the Audi A3.

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The world’s first LTE-connected car, courtesy of Audi, began rolling out of the factory and onto lots in Europe on Thursday. The Audi S3 Sportback now comes with an option for an embedded Gemalto LTE module as part of its technology package, making it the first production car to come with fully integrated 4G connectivity.

U.S. customers will get an LTE option as well on the A3 Sedan, but they’ll have to wait until next spring. A three-door plug-in hybrid version of the S3 Sportback is also scheduled for U.S. release in 2015. Audi spokesman Brad Stertz told GigaOM that now that its first 4G car is in production, the German carmaker will roll out the feature to the rest of the fleet quickly, including its entire A3 line in Europe starting in November.

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What’s particularly interesting is how signing up for in-vehicle 4G connected car service will be different in the U.S. and Europe, mimicking the way those different regions buy phone service. In Europe, 4G Audi owners can use any carrier’s network. They just need to insert a data SIM card into the dash.

In the U.S. though, Audi connectivity will most likely be tied to a specific operator, Stertz said, just like most of our smartphones are optimized for specific carriers. That makes some sense, given the complexity of U.S. LTE networks.

The_Audi_A3_with_4G-LTE_integration_Audi_45783While in Europe most carriers are deploying their networks on three common bands, in the U.S. every operator is using a different LTE frequency. Just like Apple and Samsung make separate versions of the iPhone and Galaxy for different carriers, Audi may need to supply different modules for those different networks.

Stertz said Audi is still negotiating with U.S. operators now and will make an announcement about which carrier or carriers it will partner with at a later date.

Even though Audi won’t have its first U.S. 4G car until next year, it will likely beat all of its rivals to market. General Motors plans to make AT&T LTE standard in all cars starting in model year 2015. BMW has developed a LTE hotspot accessory car owners can use to create miniature wireless LAN within the vehicle, but it hasn’t started selling it yet. The accessory approach also means it’s not integrated with the car’s infotainment system, so you can connect your gadgets in the car but not the car itself.

Audi is going fully integrated from the get go. The S3 and forthcoming A3 will use their LTE chips to link its on-board nav system to the cloud with access to Google Earth and Streetview. Drivers can access social media networks Facebook and Twitter with voice commands, though its Audi Connect platform is still light on other apps. And the LTE connection can also be redistributed to other devices in the car through Wi-Fi.

How you’ll wind up paying for the service is still an open question. Many people will balk at the thought of buying a separate mobile plan for their cars. That’s why I suspect we’ll see carriers include connected cars in their data share plans. You wind up paying a $5 to $10 monthly device fee to maintain your car’s mobile connection and then draw from the same data bucket shared by your smartphone and tablet.

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Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Sierra Wireless was the LTE module provider for Audi. While Sierra did develop LTE connectivity technologies for the automaker, Audi decided to go with competitor Gemalto’s modules with when it started manufacturing the S3.

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  1. They’re doing it wrong – incorporate Miracast, or similar video broadcast technologies, to put smart phone maps, dialers, etc., into a larger dashboard display or HUD.

    Why fork the info?

    1. That’s the approach a lot of connected car makers have taken, Paul. Ford is a big proponent of bring your own connectivity and CPU, and it’s a smart strategy. It means your connected car gets smarter as your phone does, while an infotainment based system is locked in. Audi and GM, though, seem to like the embedded model. We’ll see how this pans out especially after some of these systems are in the market for a while.

      1. Tesla will allow you to link your car’s system to your phone’s tethered network soon. They’ve been promising it in a future software rev for the Model S. It’s brutally necessary as 3G is just not adequate for maps and streaming media.

  2. Instead of simply allowing their SIM to be swapped, car manufacturers should allow owners to swap out the antenna/control module. This will allow it to be upgraded as more powerful chips and capabilities are required and also addresses the various frequency differences.

  3. It seems silly to make a car a separate data device when I have a 4g smart phone in my car. Just make the car capable of connecting to my phone via wifi. The phone will be the brain of the cars infotainment center. The phone can use the bigger screen, speakers etc. It will also make it easier to upgrade as all I have to do is buy a new phone and not a new car.

  4. The S3 will not be a plug-in hybrid next year. The S3 is a 296HP 2.0T gasoline and all-wheel drive sedan. get the facts correct.

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