BMW Assist is a cellular based automotive roadside assistance service offered by BMW. BMW Assist is similar to GM's OnStar or Mercedes-Benz TeleAid services as they both use the cellular network and Global Positioning telemetry to locate or guide the vehicle. BMW Assist can provide turn-by-turn directions, remote unlocking, vehicle diagnostics, airbag deployment notification, theft recovery and towing or flat tire repair. The service is included free in most new BMWs. After expiration, it can be purchased at a yearly rate.
BMW Assist is integrated into the car's communication and audio systems. It works in conjunction with the navigation system (if equipped) or uses its own GPS equipment. The original BMW Assist system worked in conjunction with the AMPS cellular network for data transmission and voice communication. Current BMW Assist systems work using more advanced CDMA, TDMA, or GSM technology.
The car communicates via the cellular network with a Back-end system that receives and analyzes the information. Both voice and data (via SMS or GPRS) is transmitted. Dependent of the application, the information is routed for example to a call-center or presented on a web-site. The Back-end is operated by ATX Group, the world's largest independent Telematics Service Provider (TSP).
Theft recovery is an additional subscription service BMW Assist offers. This service is capable of tracking the location of the car via the car computer and GPS system.
This service has been received with mixed reports of satisfaction. One major complaint is that the system is powered by the cars regular 12-volt battery, and is easily disabled by any competent thief (although the vehicle would be immobilized). Additionally, disconnection of the battery is standard practice before working on computerized vehicles. Thieves looking to disassemble the vehicle for parts would probably unknowingly disable the tracking system by mere virtue of luck. The system also uses the vehicles rooftop antenna, which is much larger than a normal cellphone antenna. This obvious placement of the antenna is also a determent; thieves unfamiliar with the tracking system may intuitively remove the antenna.
Most BMW owners who are concerned about theft employ third party tracking options. These devices have many advantages, and disadvantages. Most devices are small, and can be placed virtually anywhere in the vehicle. Some higher end devices also contain small power sources. These devices may take longer for the thief to detect, and may be more difficult to disable. The BMW system however is tied into the car's computer system and cannot be removed without rendering the vehicle immobile. Additionally, the BMW system utilizes the car's huge power reserve to amplify the cellular signal to a massive three watts. Further signal gains are attributed to the use of the vehicles large antenna which is several magnitudes larger than a cellphone antenna.
The BMW Assist system has an excellent track record if the theft was discovered within a short period of time. Several bureaucratic policies of BMW may hinder this advantage, since they require a police report be filled out prior to tracking. In some parts of North America this process can take several hours or even days.
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