In-car telematics, post-crash SOS systems, and more could all be affected depending on what car you drive.
Technological updates are happening faster than ever in the increasingly globalized world. What was modern tech one day can quickly be replaced with something more advanced. Such is the case with most major 3G cellular networks being shut down this year. We first covered this situation earlier this month but wanted to find what, exactly, automakers are doing about 3G's retirement.
Why is the 3G shutdown such a big deal, you might ask?
Because 3G signals play a major role in a variety of things, ranging from charging stations, navigation, Wi-Fi hotspots, remote locking/unlocking features, and emergency calls. With the flick of a switch, all of that will suddenly end for those relying on 3G. AT&T, for example, officially shut down its 3G network yesterday, February 22.
CarBuzz reached out to several automakers asking them whether their older vehicles, including best-sellers like the Ford F-150, will lose functionality and whether or not contingency plans for that loss were in place. We were also concerned about safety systems, like post-crash SOS functions found in GM's OnStar, a system that can also run on 3G. Of the 10 automakers we contacted, four replied in time for publication. Here's what they had to say on the matter.
GM's official statement acknowledged that Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac vehicles all embed OnStar on hardware that leverages AT&T's cellular network. That network no longer supports 3G; although 4G remains unchanged. GM planned ahead, citing that "some vehicles will require an over-the-air update to remain connected. These updates have already started to ensure OnStar and infotainment services continue beyond AT&T's 3G network shutdown."
Audi answered our questions in far more detail. "Telematics services and entertainment services are at times running separate networks. All of that is to say that the only services affected by the 3G sunset are telematics services. With the transition to Motion for Audi connect, an equipped vehicle will only be losing remote lock/unlock. Otherwise, the customer will be gaining a number of new features like road score, live trip tracker, [and] fuel finder."
The spokesperson, Jacob Brown, added that the carmaker is working with Mojio, a company that developed an OBD-II port dongle capable of upgrading the telematics system to an LTE network, to create the Motion for Audi service. Brown stressed that "all affected eligible customers have been contacted." Safety should not be a concern because the dongle, which runs on the car's built-in Bluetooth speaker, has a built-in telemetry algorithm with an automatic crash notification feature that runs on a separate network from smartphones.
Stellantis is taking a somewhat different approach by offering 3G customers two subscription packages that'll enable them to convert 3G-equipped vehicles to 4G. However, those packages, either 2 GB of data or unlimited data per month, cost $9.99 and $29.99 per month, respectively. "Both options include the necessary hardware to continue our most popular services such as remote start, and unlike the 3G offering, the new plans adds 4G Wi-Fi included in the cost," a spokesman added.
In the case of Honda, vehicles running 3G-based systems would be able to download over-the-air updates to avoid any problems. However, those who didn't secure an update prior to the February 22 shutdown date wouldn't be able to get access at all. This is because the onboard communication unit can only be updated over the air and relies solely on 3G.
SOS emergency services are a different matter. All 3G-equipped Hondas have the HondaLink Assist capability by using a tethered mobile phone with an option during phone pairing. This will automatically dial emergency services if an airbag deployment is detected.
Based on these responses, it's clear several automakers have done due diligence in preparing for the 3G sunset. Affected owners were contacted and it was ultimately up to them to act. It's fair to assume a majority of automakers offered similar solutions so that few to zero customers were left with nothing.