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CalAmp module plugs into any OBD II connector for powertrain scan data, and also includes a modem and vehicle GPS tracking. Overall functionality is limited without OE integration of similar hardware.

Sprint Velocity adding cloud-based features, offering retrofit

Chrysler's Uconnect started as a simple hands-free communication system in 2002 with subsequent access to onboard entertainment. Now thanks to a 2013 tie-up with Sprint Velocity, the cellular carrier's telematics solutions unit, Uconnect is becoming a full-featured telematics system with access to a host of Sprint-maintained and -updated cloud-based services.

In addition, Sprint Velocity is offering a module that can plug into any 1996-on vehicle's OBD II diagnostic connector, extract data, and transmit them through its integrated scanner-modem-vehicle tracker. Sprint introduced this device, made by CalAmp, a wireless communications products maker, at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, to provide some retrofit capability. It can be installed on most cars.

Of course, broad-based feature content on a few 2013 and more 2014 Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and Fiat models is possible because Sprint-supplied embedded hardware was given electronic access. It can read data from CAN (controller area network) data buses for powertrain, interior features, and telematics.

Although the CalAmp module that was just introduced can be plugged into any 1996-on unequipped car, the potential feature content it can produce is vehicle dependent. Its functionality is limited on most, except for data available from the OBD II connector (and any data it can self-generate, as from GPS and an integrated accelerometer). This type of plug-in device can access EPA-mandated "generic OBD II" data (primarily powertrain data items that affect emissions) and some manufacturer's-enhanced OBD II items, which are on the high-speed CAN bus.

Information from other data buses requires the more extensive OE-enabled access, as given by Chrysler on those few 2013-14 vehicles. Without it, many of the possible Sprint Velocity features cannot be offered. A connectivity module must be able to communicate with an interior bus too, to lock or unlock doors and perform remote start, for examples.

New open-architecture platform

Sprint's basic approach is to work with the OE. The new Velocity is open-architecture, so its in-the-cloud servers will support OE telematics units, OBD II devices, and other embedded connectivity. With good OE access to onboard gateways and data buses, the list of additional possible services grows exponentially, including voice recognition through cloud-based servers for emergency assistance, navigation, entertainment, texting, and read-aloud emails, texts, and browser searches.

Sprint calls its platform "device-agnostic," meaning it can be made to work with any one that a motorist chooses, typically either Google's Android or Apple's IOS (including its Siri voice-activated Q&A system, which also is a dealer-installed feature on some Honda/Acura products). Chief competitor Verizon has been in the market for many years as the connectivity source for OnStar, which made remote door unlock a feature that General Motors advertised heavily.

Chrysler features

As used by Chrysler for Uconnect, Sprint Velocity offers a large menu of features, the exact grouping depending on the model.

Uconnect Access, on 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango, SRT Viper, and Ram 1500, 2500, and 3500 (with more to come) is the important upgrade provided by Sprint Velocity. It does 911 calling (via a button in the rear-view mirror) and 911 Assist (via a button to call for roadside assistance), remote start, stolen vehicle recovery, and optional full-feature navigation with 3-D imaging. It also can flash headlamps on command from anywhere using a smartphone or computer.

Uconnect Access also can announce incoming texts, identify the senders, and read the messages aloud if a compatible smartphone has been paired. Later in 2014, Uconnect Access also will provide Access Via Mobile, a Sprint-developed smartphone app that brings favorite smartphone apps like Pandora, Slacker, IHeartRadio, Yelp, and Aha to the vehicle touchscreen. For the driver of an SRT Viper, with its touchscreen Performance Pages, which record acceleration and braking times and distances, best performances can be uploaded from the screen to the web.

Daily-use hotspot

Although Audi is touting the 4G LTE system in its forthcoming 2014 A3, Chrysler motorists with less-extensive needs for download speed, but who want telematics services, can get them. That includes using Velocity to create an in-car rolling hotspot, for which a motorist can purchase access for just a day, week, or month. The hotspot, which comes from an embedded modem or a linked smartphone, turns the occasional need or desire for Wi-Fi into an easily-afforded feature.

Sprint will be offering custom features for specific groups of customers. Fleets will be able to track and monitor locations of their vehicles to improve routing and dispatch, and operating characteristics and mileages for maintenance scheduling. Rental car fleets will be able to see how far their vehicles are traveling and adjust maintenance schedules if necessary. Dealerships will be able to add new connectivity features to used vehicles to make them more salable.

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