Verizon service could turn millions more vehicles into connected cars

Verizon Vehicle can be added to virtually any car made since 1996

The owners of more than 200 million cars in the U.S. will be able to monitor their vehicles and get roadside assistance through a service Verizon will offer in by mid-year for US$14.99 per month.

The Verizon Vehicle service won't even require a cellphone: It will run off a dongle that plugs into the standard OBD2 (on-board diagnostics) port found in almost every car made since 1996. The driver will hear alerts and talk with assistants through a small device clipped to the visor. As an option, they can get diagnostic alerts sent to a phone on any carrier's network, and there will also be an optional smartphone app.

Automakers, mobile vendors and carriers are all working on advanced vehicle systems for everything from in-car information and entertainment to self-driving vehicles. Verizon itself has connected-car partnerships with car makers including Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Volkswagen and Hyundai.

Verizon Vehicle is more low-tech and aimed at a broad market. The first version of the system doesn't even use Verizon's LTE network, instead relying on older CDMA technology. But Verizon says the service could be added to more than 200 million vehicles across the U.S. All cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. since 1996, including all-electric vehicles, are required to have an OBD2 port.

The company announced Verizon Vehicle at an event on Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

"With what we're announcing this afternoon, we will empower the millions of drivers who have been locked out of the digital revolution," said Andres Irlando, CEO of Verizon Telematics.

Verizon Vehicle is similar to the OnStar service built into more than 5 million General Motors vehicles, 90 percent of which are connected via Verizon's cellular network, according to Mike Peterson, general manager of the OEM line of business at Verizon Telematics. The critical difference is that Verizon Vehicle is an add-on technology, so it can be used in many more vehicles.

Service features will include roadside assistance for towing or immediate repairs, an automated call system for emergency response in case of a suspected accident, a one-button voice connection to a live agent for emergency aid, a hotline to a certified auto mechanic, maintenance alerts, and location assistance for stolen vehicles.

The in-car hardware is included in the price, which can be either $14.99 per month or $179 per year, Peterson said. That includes unlimited roadside assistance. The two devices come automatically paired to each other, and the subscriber just has to set up an account online. To get text alerts to a phone, they just need to provide the phone number in that account, Peterson said.

Verizon Vehicle will go on sale directly from Verizon in the second quarter and through retailers by the end of the year, Verizon says.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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