In a modern-day version of the Transformers movies, where vehicles turn into powerful robots to save the Earth, top automakers have been hard at work transforming their cars, SUVs and trucks into mobile devices on wheels by adding advanced wireless technology for sports fans and beyond.
The results are already rolling off assembly lines with trucks equipped with 4G connections and the ability to serve as Wi-Fi hotspots. This enables passengers to access streaming video content whether the vehicle is parked in a NFL game tailgate, or on the road for a short- or long-haul drive.
The connected car concept has been around for many, many years but the reality is newer, thanks largely to automakers that have increasingly turned to technology to differentiate their vehicles from those of competitors. Chevrolet, Ford and Audi are among those driving change through wireless connectivity.
Reality Doesn't Bite
The result could make the Consumer Electronics Show more of a car show, than a TV tech show. Chevrolet has already taken to the primetime airwaves in a large way to inform TV viewers that all its 2015 cars, trucks and crossovers are available with 4G LTE and built-in Wi-Fi. In GM's case, up to seven devices within a car can be connected and then given access through OnStar's wireless service (from AT&T) to the Internet.
Top wireless service providers – AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless - identified the opportunity more than a few years ago and have been working with automakers to user in an era that lets passengers connect to sports web sites, fire up smartphone apps to enable live game streaming, and check league sites for live scores, updates, highlights and breaking news. Ford has worked with AT&T on its efforts to date. Verizon provides wireless connectivity to Toyota and Hyundai and telematics services to other brands.
If you aren't driving (or buying) a new model ride with 4G LTE connectivity and a built–in Wi-Fi device, you aren't on the sidelines by any stretch. Car equipment stores sell add-on devices that do the trick, and suppliers to car dealers offer add-on options that work with older vehicles.
The global connected car market will be worth 39 billion in 2018, up from 13 billion in 2012, according to new forecasts from research firm SBD and the GSMA. "Over the next five years, there will be an almost sevenfold increase in the number of new cars equipped with factory-fitted mobile connectivity designed to meet demand among regulators and consumers for safety and security features, as well as infotainment and navigation services," according to the companies.
Covering over 220 countries, the trade association unites nearly 800 mobile operators, and over 200 companies in the in the mobile ecosystem, including handset makers, software companies, equipment providers, Internet companies, and media and entertainment organizations.
Why the semi-sudden allure of the connected car? Well, though GM started adding connectivity through its OnStar service in the mid-90s, the wireless bandwidth available at that early stage – and for many years to come – was not sufficient for fat content such as streaming video. OnStar used a cellular network not for viewing content but to provide capabilities such as hands-free calling, navigation and call center support during emergencies.OnStar, and wireless connectivity for content viewing in vehicles, have both come a very long way. Ford's Sync technology allows owners to create a Wi-Fi hotspot using the modem on their cell phone.
What NFL Fans Can Watch
-If you subscribe to Verizon Wireless, you can fire up the NFL Mobile app if you're away from home during a local market game on Sunday, Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football and Monday Night Football.
-If you're a DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket subscriber, you can use the satellite operator's mobile app to watch most any out-of-market game.
-Pro football fans with the league's first-year NFL Now app can watch live game highlights; get the latest scores and watch interviews of players and coaches of their favorite team.
-Through the NFL Network mobile app, or NFL Now, fans can watch a fast-growing list of original series including the first year hits Finding Giants and Undrafted, in addition to staples such as A Football Life, America's Game and numerous Top 10 list shows.
-Download the NFL Game Rewind app which enables you to view replays, both condensed and full-length of past games from 2009 to the present in HD with the benefit of such unique features as countless camera angles not available on TV (Coaches Film) and Telestrator, Big Play Markers, etc.
-If NFL Network is part of your TV programming package, you can also use the channel's app to watch the addictive NFL RedZone, which provides live coverage of scoring drives in progress in whip-around mode around the league, along with bonus coverage of games in progress.
-If your pay TV service includes ESPN, you can download the WatchESPN app, which gives sports fans access to all four of the brand's channels, its news shows such as SportsCenter, Pardon the Interruption, 30 for 30 series, Outside the Lines and loads of non-NFL live game action.
The Road Ahead
The connected car (truck and crossover) is clearly not your father's transportation.
In many ways, connected cars are becoming mobile devices (with wheels). For fans looking for their rides to do more than let them stay connected to the NFL while away from home, the future holds the ability to connect with other vehicles, machines, traffic signals and more.
For those who are content to stream or download NFL content from a variety of sources, the future is now.
Bob Wallace is a technology journalist with over 30 years of experience explaining how new services, apps, consumer electronic devices and video sources are reshaping the world of communications as we know it. Wallace has specific expertise in explaining how and why advances in technology, media and entertainment redefine the way football fans interact with the league, teams, players and each other. He's the Founder of Fast Forward Thinking LLC.