AT&T grows by 1.9 million connections, many of which were cars

AT&T posted yet another strong quarter for new connections, but unlike previous periods this fourth quarter was driven (pun intended) largely by cars. Of its 1.9 million net subscriber additions, 800,000 were vehicles giving yet another indication that AT&T is locking down the 4G car connectivity market.

Ma Bell didn’t do too shabbily in other areas either. The carrier saw its postpaid customer base grow by 854,000, which included 148,000 new smartphone connections and nearly 1 million new tablet data subscriptions. It lost 180,000 prepaid subscribers and 65,000 wholesale subscribers, but it made up for them with 1.3 million connected device links, which includes cars and other internet-of-things devices. [company]AT&T[/company] now hosts 121 million total wireless connections on its networks.

Over the last year, AT&T has been signing deal after deal with automakers to provide the LTE link to their new 3G and 4G cars. Most of those new connected Audis, Chevys, Buicks, Cadillacs and Volvos rolled out this summer and fall (it also supplies the links to Tesla cars), leading to two big quarters of vehicle-driven growth. In Q3, it added 500,000 car connections as well.

Archrival [company]Verizon[/company] welcomed 2.07 million new connections to its networks in a Q4 that was also dominated by new tablet subscriptions. [company]T-Mobile[/company] grew by 2.1 million connections and [company]Sprint[/company] saw a rare growth spurt of 1 million new subscribers.

Financially AT&T posted a net loss of $3.9 billion after seven straight quarters of profit. AT&T said that loss is attributed to actuarial losses on its employee benefit plans, network write-offs and merger and integration expenses. AT&T just bought Mexican carrier Iusacell, and it’s in the process of acquiring both DirecTV and Nextel Mexico, all of which will give AT&T a big presence in Latin America.

“Building out Mexico is going to be a full-court press for the next few years,” CEO Randall Stephenson said at AT&T’s earnings call.

Subaru cars go 4G while OnStar starts teaching driver’s ed

CES is becoming quite the show of late for automakers and their suppliers to show off new connected car technologies, and this year’s annual Vegas tech extravaganza was no exception. Here are some of the more interesting automotive announcements I saw coming out of the show.

[company]Subaru[/company] is joining the 4G car movement, announcing deals at CES with [company]AT&T[/company] to build LTE connectivity directly into 2016 vehicles (though Subaru didn’t say which makes), which means they’ll likely make their way to dealers this summer or fall. And what will Subaru owners do with that connection? The automaker is upgrading its StarLink infotainment system with telematics apps, and presumably it will be able to use 4G to feed apps like Pandora that are already making it into Subaru dashboards.

If you’re a [company]GM[/company] owner, you can already use OnStar to call for help when your car breaks down or get directions to the nearest gas station, but GM wants its driving assistant to wear many more hats, including those of a concierge, mechanic and driving instructor. GM is adding new features to OnStar that will allow its advisors to book hotel rooms, restaurant tables as well as alert you to discounts and special offers from retailers.

A new OnStar diagnostic feature will start analyzing car systems like the battery and fuel pump and notify owners about potential problems before they occur. And this summer OnStar will offer a driving feedback service that rates your performance behind the wheel and offers tip on how to improve. GM is also partnering with [company]Progressive[/company] to offer insurance discounts to customers who rate highly in the program.

UIEvolution revealed on Monday that it has developed a new in-car networking technology using Bluetooth Low Energy. Called BlueSync, the network uses proximity to detect when a smartphone is in the vehicle, just like Bluetooth beacons can sense if you’re in a particular area of a store. Those devices can then automatically link to the dashboard without going through any kind of pairing procedure and gain access to certain features in the car’s infotainment system.

For instance, a passenger could send an address directly to the car’s navigation system or gain access to the volume or air conditioning controls via a remote link. BlueSync could also be used as verification system to grant passengers access to the in-vehicle Wi-Fi network.