Sunsetting of 2G service to disconnect many cars

Owners of dozens of BMW AG models sold in recent years will have to deal with an unexpected problem when the calendar hits 2017: their swanky luxury cars will lose their connection to the outside world.

Vehicles sold by the German auto maker are equipped with AT&T Inc.’s second-generation, or 2G, wireless service for its BMW Assist roadside assistance service. Similar to General Motors Co.’s OnStar and other auto maker’s wireless services. BMW Assist acts in a crash to alert authorities, offer turn-by turn directions, remotely unlock doors and perform other functions.

The service will end this month when AT&T shuts down its 2G wireless network, and more vehicle owners in coming years will be affected as other carriers, including Verizon Communications Inc., stops supporting the aging technology. BMW and other auto makers already have been forced to offer to retrofit hardware or provide gift cards to those owners who don’t want the hassle of getting an upgrade. BMW owners can accept a $300 voucher for BMW accessories, a $200 VISA gift card or a retrofit of updated cellular technology, the company said.

Nissan Motor Co. is another auto maker scrambling to provide a fix.

The problem–well telegraphed by several years ago by AT&T–is an embarrassing one for auto makers striving to prove that cars can remain technologically relevant over long periods. Unlike smartphones, which are relatively cheap to replace and easily updated over the air, cars represent a hefty purchase and can remain in use for more than 11 years.

Car companies have been frustrated by owners showing little interest in using embedded telematics services, instead opting to use Samsung Electronics Co. or Apple Inc. smartphones for mapping services, streaming music and other connected services.

BMW models set to lose connections on Jan. 1:

  • 2013 and earlier models
  • 2014 X6
  • 2015 and earlier X1
  • 2016 and earlier Z4

More than half of vehicle owners had never used their in-vehicle concierge services after 90 days of ownership, according to market researcher J.D. Power. Kristin Kolodge, a director with the firm, said these services “might be getting past their time" as drivers rely on their smartphones for navigation, and make calls through Bluetooth.

Still, many car buyers purchase automobiles on the assumption the components will last the life of the vehicle. While car companies have begun installing newer wireless technologies in recent years, a substantial chunk of the roughly 150 million cars sold over the past decade will soon become obsolete. Full Story at the Wall Street Journal

Leave a Reply