This past April, we witnessed BMW release America’s first 5G connected car, adding fuel to the already fierce fight between automakers over who will capture consumers’ attention as a leader in the evolving vehicles market. As 5G deployment becomes more widespread and droves of automotive manufacturers race to implement this technology in their newer vehicles, the number of nonconnected vehicles on the road is declining. For the first time, connected vehicle volume has surpassed that of nonconnected cars with a little over 50% of the market share for Q2 this year. And while this may be exciting for new buyers and manufacturers alike, not everyone is thrilled about the ongoing shift to 5G.
WIT anticipated that conflicts would arise concerning expanded 5G offerings and shuttered 3G services, and our predictions rang true. Let’s take a look at a recent filing that may offer a view into the future of litigation in the space.
Porsche Connect’s Disconnect
When it comes to new generations of the spectrum, wireless providers are focused on implementing improved connections rather than maintaining outdated networks. Companies are already working hard to improve 5G service and prepare for the onset of 6G, moving away from technologies like 3G and, increasingly, 4G. Because of this, three major wireless network providers in the US have committed to discontinuing the 3G service still used in some connected vehicles, jeopardizing older vehicles’ connectivity capabilities.
In April, we asked how consumers would respond to shuttered service in their vehicles as the wireless industry continues to evolve, and we are now seeing the results of this firsthand. On October 17, a class action suit was brought against Porsche and their parent company, Volkswagen, over the loss of vehicle features that were previously available via their 3G telematics equipment.
Brought on by Squitieri & Fearon, the suit claims that in certain vehicles, the internet and communications system known as “Porsche Connect” is only compatible with 3G networks. This means that once 3G connections are officially phased out, the software in the vehicle becomes obsolete, rendering Porsche Connect completely useless.
The plaintiffs in the case include purchasers and lessees of Porsche vehicles from model years 2014 through 2019. Though networks were already moving to make 4G the standard spectrum in 2014, Porsche was adamant about highlighting the Porsche Connect features in their 2014 model year cars even though the system would soon be antiquated. The plaintiffs allege that the defendant’s statements about the Connect system were misleading and, despite the wireless industry’s ongoing shift away from 3G and towards 4G/5G over the past decade, the defendants did not disclose until 2022 that the telematics in specific cars were built and installed with 3G only capabilities. Further, the telematics could have been manufactured accordingly to accommodate for downloadable software or updates in the spectrum, but the suit claims that the defendants did not attempt to do so.
According to Porsche’s numbers, there could be more than 300,000 consumers affected by the suit and these vehicle holders would lose the ability to contact first responders after a crash, remote start their car, update map navigation, and more. And this is only the start; since this is the first suit of its kind hitting the courts, the possibility of additional disputes over similar issues will likely begin forming, especially as 3G shutdowns continue throughout the end of the year.
This case will likely alert additional consumers of the impending inoperability of their connected vehicle systems, meaning that automakers need to start preparing for challenges associated with the outdated spectrum. And since the industry is already in flux on account of electric vehicle challenges, autonomous driving battles, and supply chain struggles, this connectivity issue needs to be addressed sooner rather than later so the mistakes aren’t replicated with the next generation of the spectrum.
If your company needs help preparing for the switch to 5G and beyond in connected cars, reach out to WIT for the best experts who can advise you on your strategy. Our expert teams were created to address what we expect to be the key areas of litigation in emerging wireless technologies with respect to the automotive industry.