T-Mobile and BMW announced this week that T-Mobile's 5G network will be the first to offer unlimited voice calling and unlimited 5G data to the 2022 BMW iX xDrive50 and future BMW vehicles. It is the first realized step towards a broader push by the auto industry towards a Vehicle as a Service (VaaS) model.
If you have been following my automotive writing recently, you will know that the automotive industry is quickly transforming toward a digital VaaS where the vehicle's value is in the services provided. 5G connectivity is a vital component of this transformation, and T-Mobile and Qualcomm, a behind-the-scenes player in this rollout, have been preparing for years. At Qualcomm's Investor Day, It announced that it is expanding its relationship with BMW relating to ADAS, which you can read about here. Although advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are not a theme of this announcement, it highlights the deep relationship of BMW and Qualcomm, and this offering by T-Mobile is the first step towards a 5G service involving ADAS and AV.
T-Mobile has the 5G coverage
T-Mobile was the first with nationwide 5G coverage, and its 5G network has opened itself up to new opportunities within the connected space. For example, last April, T-Mobile made available a home internet plan that has disrupted the monopolistic hold that many ISPs have had on rural areas. Junior Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, Jacob Freyman, has first-hand experience with T-Mobile's Home Internet in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Before the switch, there was no other choice than the nightmarish service of Suddenlink (his words, not my own). While it may seem redundant for places with blistering fast fiber, there are still many flyover states which only have DSL.
In another opportunistic instance, T-Mobile teamed up with Halo in Las Vegas, Nevada, almost a year ago to use the 5G network of T-Mobile to offer semi-AV services to the people of Las Vegas. This innovative service is a testimony to the speed and coverage that T-Mobile offers to customers at unprecedented levels. The most impressive part of this offering is that T-Mobile's ultra-fast mmWave band is not needed, and Halo vehicles are usually in areas where mid-band is in play. AV can be divided into two categories of AV consumer and Robo-taxis. While both harness the same innovative technology, whether that is high-end compute, 5G connectivity or redundant sensors, the path towards true AV is considerably different.
The road towards consumer AV begins at ADAS and, in terms of implementing ADAS and AV systems, the first mile consists of implementing 5G service that is reliable, fast, and dependent. T-Mobile is the only network provider with the coverage, speed, and reliability to offer a 5G car service. T-Mobile says its Extended Range 5G covers 310 million people across 1.8 million square miles. T-Mobile's 5G Network also covers 97% of interstate highways. I do not think T-Mobile would offer such a service if it did not have the coverage to back it up.MORE FROMFORBES ADVISORByAmy DaniseEditorByAmy DaniseEditor
Is a 5G car service overkill?
One of the concerns many people may have about T-Mobile's Magenta Drive service is whether it is even necessary if we already have T-Mobile's 5G coverage on our smartphone. While this concern is warranted, Magenta Drive gives BMW customers better access to T-Mobile's 5G network due to the BMW iX xDrive50's advanced antenna systems that allow for higher 5g in-car data. The bigger antennas of the vehicle give riders better coverage than a 5G smartphone. In the same instance, the 5G hotspot of the BMW iX xDrvie50 unlimited 5G WiFi hotspot data for passengers to be connected without data usage concerns. The WiFi hotspot also allows for more connected devices in the vehicle, including the phone of the driver. T-Mobile says its Magnets Drive allows for simultaneous incoming call notifications between phone and vehicle.
I believe T-Mobile offers a great introduction to VaaS for consumers and makes a Magenta Drive subscription as normal as having a home phone plan or home internet plan. As the world succumbs to the digitization of everything, automobiles are no different. As an extension of the home and work, connectivity inside the vehicle inevitably goes beyond what the smartphone can offer. While BMW is the first automotive manufacturer capable of using T-Mobile's Magenta Drive service, other automotive manufacturers should follow, making 5G connectivity in a car the new normal.
5G cars are becoming the new normal
If we think for a moment about how much of the home has been digitized and connected through smart speakers, TVs, doorbells, alarm systems, cameras, smartphones, tablets, etc., and then see how our vehicles are extensions of our home and work. It puts into perspective the potential of a 5G network within a consumer vehicle. As Magenta Drive and other plans evolve to adopt ADAS and AV offerings as part of the VaaS, data should become a necessity; whether the compute is on-prem or remote, the safety of the vehicle is dependent on low latency connectivity. At the moment of full vehicle autonomy, the amount of connectivity within a vehicle should mushroom out, considering the driver is now free to be connected.
The television transformed the way we interact within the home, and I believe the presence of reliable 5G connectivity within our vehicles could have an equal effect on our lives. Services like T-Mobile's Magenta Drive will keep us always connected to our networks.
I also believe a 5G connection within the vehicle could be a door towards the proper safety drivers need to have within a vehicle. Currently, one of the leading causes of automotive accidents is using a connected device while driving. One of the benefits of Magenta Drive is the simultaneous incoming call notifications between phone and vehicle. While this is already a feature of most infotainment systems today, Magenta Drive allows the driver to leave their phone at home literally or not even need to connect their phone to the car because it is already connected. While a highway of fully AV would be the safest form of transportation, the automotive industry would not progress towards this safety goal if the first step did not improve on the safety of the vehicle. For Magenta Drive, being simultaneously connected to a personal cell phone is huge for people that are prone to use their cell phone while driving. Suppose Magenta Drive can build a reputation for having a safer driving experience over those without 5G connectivity. In that case, I believe it could be a game-changer for the automotive industry and those who down the safety of ADAS and AVs.
Magenta Drive is one of the realized capabilities of having a reliable and fast 5G network. While the need for a 5G network within our vehicle may seem redundant and unneeded while we all have 5G smartphones in our back pockets, I think we will look back and wonder how we got along without it. For advanced driving scenarios, I can see clearly how 5G can help in guidance and AV as well as entertainment. Magenta Drive offers better 5G connectivity than our smartphone with more advanced antenna systems.
As the first 5G network service for vehicles, I believe it is the first of many vehicle services that will digitally transform the way we experience driving and our vehicles. If Magenta Drive can build a reputation for having a safer driving experience with its simultaneous person cell phone feature, it could be a big step for safety. I am excited to experience Magenta Drive in the near future and believe T-Mobile is really taking hold of 5G opportunities with the best nationwide 5G network.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.