In short: AT&T and HARMAN have teamed up to offer an in-vehicle solution called HARMAN Spark that can add connective safety and convenience features to almost any vehicle manufactured after 1996, according to a recent announcement from the companies. The new product, set to be available from AT&T starting September 28 for $79.99 plus a subscription, is a plug-and-play device that jacks directly into the diagnostic OBD II port commonly found in modern vehicles. That connects to AT&T's network via LTE and a smartphone to provide crash and roadside assistance, virtual mechanic notifications, and alerts if the vehicle is towed, bumped, moved, or stolen, as well as assistance locating the vehicle. That also enables family vehicle sharing and geofencing, in addition to fleet management and assistance with reserving paid parking spaces. Finally, Spark offers driving scores and feedback on an individual basis. All of those features cost just $5 per month while Hotspot functionality can be added with a pricier AT&T unlimited or shared data plan.
Background: The technology was developed via a partnership between HARMAN and Tantalum and effectively looks to challenge similar solutions that are currently available with a more comprehensive set of features. Driver feedback, for example, includes a direct analysis of individual trips in a bid to help parents teach their children to be safer and more self-aware drivers instead of being limited to a more generalized format. Geofencing alerts and crash detection provide peace of mind and notifications in the event of an emergency, or if a teen leaves the area they were supposed to be in. The virtual mechanic, meanwhile, gives parents both an in-depth look at any vehicle-specific issues and a way to discuss car maintenance with new drivers. While limits will undoubtedly be in place with regard to how much data can be consumed before throttling occurs, the use of 4G LTE instead of 3G means that up to 8 devices can connect at once for work, navigation, or entertainment.
Impact: The technology appears to be a stepping stone toward the intensive IoT-driven economy that's expected to flourish with the arrival of widespread 5G. Although 5G isn't currently an option with HARMAN Spark, it's difficult to imagine that neither AT&T or the company will look to next-generation networks to bring more features and functionality in future releases. Since the bandwidth and latency are predicted and have been shown to improve immensely over 5G, solutions such as these are bound to spread. That should be helpful for those consumers who don't have the latest available vehicles with advanced connectivity options or infotainment already built in.