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AT&T(s t) plans to work more closely with automakers on their connected car technologies through a new program called AT&T Drive. Ma Bell announced the program at CES in Las Vegas – a show that’s developed a particularly automotive focus this year – with the idea of turning its recent 4G-car connectivity wins into broader relationships with the automakers.
According to AT&T President of Emerging Enterprises and Partnerships Glenn Lurie, AT&T wants to put it’s expertise in mobile app development and management and data billing as well as its global relationships with other carriers to use for the benefits of automakers.
Lurie told me an earlier interview that AT&T isn’t interested in building connected car platforms or infotainment systems – automakers and their suppliers are all pursuing their own technologies in that area. But AT&T can help them build services like vehicle telematics apps, design dashboard user interfaces, host and parse connected car data in the cloud, and manage and bill for millions of mobile data connections across dozens of different carrier networks worldwide, Lurie said.
AT&T isn’t the only U.S. carrier with such ambitions. Sprint(s s) launched a program called Velocity last year, and Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) has gone so far as to buy Hughes Telematics to ingrain itself within the connected car market. But AT&T has seen a lot of success in the space of late. It will eventually connect all future General Motors cars — starting with model year 2015 Chevys – in the U.S. to its LTE network, giving its customers the option of attaching their vehicles to its shared data plans. It’s also the current network provider for Tesla’s(s tsla) vehicles and the future mobile data provider for Nissan’s U.S. cars.
AT&T Drive will have two components. Drive itself will be modular platform it offers as a technology to automakers. In its most basic form it will be a connectivity module take provides rote internet access to a car, but automakers will be able to add on other technologies, from managed cloud services to custom-designed apps, Lurie said.
The second component is called Drive Studio, a physical 5,000-square-foot “garage” in Atlanta where AT&T will develop new products such as hands-free speech interfaces using its Watson natural language understanding technology. Drive Studio will be closely tied to its Foundry development center in Atlanta, which happens to focus on the connected home and car.
Lurie announced the new automotive program at its developer conference at CES in Las Vegas along with several other developer projects. AT&T is opening up Android APIs for its U-Verse TV service to general developers, giving them a means to connect to AT&T’s settop boxes. It also launched new handsets such as the LG G Flex. But the big news was a new program that allows content providers to sponsor data traffic on the mobile network. Basically AT&T is letting companies foot their customers’ mobile data bills as a means of promoting their content.