Tesla turns to AT&T to power its connected car strategy

AT&T has scored a deal to bring connectivity to the car of the future.

Chris Penrose, senior vice president of emerging technologies for the carrier, announced at GigaOM Mobilize 2013 Thursday that the wireless giant will be available inside Tesla’s advanced connected cars. The company’s wireless network will power the car’s two-way vehicle communications, remote engine diagnostics, and infotainment features.

“We believe that our ability to bring total solutions into the space is something that is being demanded, and something that we can excel and differentiate. Not just being a connectivity partner,” Penrose said onstage.

In order to take advantage of AT&T’s offerings, the vehicles must be equipped with a modem and a corresponding SIM card to connect to cell towers. With the connection, the car can take advantage of several maintenance, entertainment and safety features. For example, remote engine diagnostics can keep real-time tabs on how the Tesla is performing, and whether it needs to be taken in for servicing. That same program can also help locate a car if it’s stolen, and even offer Tesla engineers access to data on the performance of vehicles over the long term. The modem provides internet access to provide radio services, live weather and traffic, navigation and even internet search for drivers and passengers.

“We think that you should have the ability to turn your car on as a mobile hotspot for your trip, even if you haven’t subscribed to a data plan,” Penrose added.

We’ve been talking a lot at Mobilize about how connectivity is changing nearly everything we can envision, as the wireless internet starts making its way into previously unconnected places. Wireless carriers are eyeing the automotive industry very closely, but it’s very early in the evolution of the connected car, as the industry ponders whether or not the car itself should be connected or whether the car should use the smartphone as the connectivity hub. Tesla and AT&T are betting on the former.

Check out the rest of our Mobilize 2013 live coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

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A transcription of the video follows on the next page