Connected car: smartphone on four wheels?

Friday 5 April 2013 | 10:57 CET | Background

Connected cars are increasingly in the news, with a number of announcements notably at the recent CES and MWC trade shows. The connected car ecosystem is developing slowly but is clearly gaining a foothold.

In the Netherlands, the then minister of infrastructure and the environment, Melanie Schultz van Haegen, launched in February last year the Smart-In-Car project at AutomotiveCampusNL in Helmond. Smart-In-Car is part of the Brabant in-car II project launched in July 2011, the successor to the first version developed in 2008-2010.

The aim of the project is to develop the latest technologies in the name of 'smart mobility'. A car can be more than just bringing a person from A to B, it can also be used as an information source. Using real-time systems, drivers and passengers can receive personalised information on topics such as changing weather conditions, traffic developments or energy efficiency. With this driving becomes more efficient and more safe, the minister noted. 

One of the elements of the trial was the app ParckR, described as an application for 'Intelligent Truck Parking'. The app gives truck drivers real-time information on the availability of parking spaces along their routes. It also tells them what kind of services are available at the space and how other drivers rate the space. Another central element of the trial was the CAN network, designed for real-time data communication in vehicles, using sensors in the car. A special unit with a NXP chip collects sensor data and sends this to the IBM Smarter Traffic Center where the data is analysed. 

Smart-In-Car is far from a one-off project. A number of major players are participating to ensure they are part of the quickly developing trends of smart mobililty and connected cars. NXP, IBM Nederland, Beijer Automotive, Nokia, Tass, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, TNO, ANWB, Cibatax, KPN and Rijkswaterstaat are all involved in the EU-subsidised project. Smart-In-Car received a positive evaluation recently and work on its further development is under study. Minister Schultz van Haegen's conclusion was in-car technology is the future.

On the European level, the adoption of smart mobility is clear from the eCall project. This EU initiative will see cars fitted standard with a Sim card and technology that can automatically alert the emergency services in the event of an accident. From 2015, all cars need to be fitted with eCall, the European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, responsible for the digital agenda, announced recently. The requirement had been held up by a number of countries concerned about the cost of around EUR 100 for the hardware. An earlier attempt to encourage carmakers to implement the system voluntarily had little take-up; currently only 0.7 percent of cars have the eCall module. The EU member states will also need to refit their alarm centres and mobile networks to ensure eCall works, further complicating a quick roll-out. 

Car industry moving quickly

The integration of communications technology in cars has accelerated in recent years, moving beyond GPS navigation services in an attempt to positively influence driving behaviour and reduce accidents. The recent CES trade show in Las Vegas and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona both featured numerous announcements showing the growing interest in 'connecting' cars. 

Cooperation is the key word to profiting from an industry which has been hit hard by the financial and economic crisis and is in the process of re-inventing itself. The mobile industry, where digitisation is the norm, will have a major role to play here. Some of the services one can expect include vehicle-to-vehicle communication, infotainment, voice control and linking vehicles to mobile devices through the 4G network. In effect, the car is becoming a smartphone on four wheels, Glenn Lurie, president of emerging enterprises and partnerships at AT&T, said at MWC.

Carmakers are increasingly partnering with technology companies such as software developers, system integrators, mobile providers and network suppliers. In recent months, GM, Honda and Ford have all made important announcements on the connected car.

  • GM announced at the end of last year that it will integrate Apple's voice assistant Siri in a number of its cars. Honda followed, saying it will use the Apple technology in 2013 models of the Accord, Acura RDX and Acura ILX for the North American market.
  • Ford and GM announced at CES that they will release free APIs to developers to encourage integration of apps with the car systems. From 2015, GM plans to include 4G connectivity in all its Chevrolets, Buicks, GMCs and Cadillacs. Last year GM unveiled a Wi-Fi system for cars that could also warn for nearby pedestrians or cyclists. 
  • In mid-February, the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) released version 1.0 of its MirrorLink specification. This allows the interface of a smartphone to be replicated on the touchscreen of an infotainment system in the car. The CCC includes a number of carmakers as well as Nokia, Samsung, HTC and LG.
  • Ford announced at MWC an agreement with Spotify, the digital music service's first with a car brand. In addition, Ford unveiled the Kaliki Audio Newsstand, an app that reads out news stories; Glympse, a dynamic route planner with social media components; and Aha, a web radio service with personalised ads, Facebook and Twitter integration and Amazon Cloud Player.
  • Volvo announced recently it will include Spotify in all its new models, including voice controls. Volvo's Sensus Connected Touch application allows drivers to use a dongle or mobile phone to play music in the car. With an internet connection, tracks can be streamed via Spotify. 

Mobile operators taking M2M seriously

The developments in connected cars will have serious implications for network infrastructure. While only a small fraction of cars are web-enabled currently, the number of connected cars is expected to increase exponentially in the (near) future. Data communication over M2M is largely based on tiny packets of data at the moment, but this could increase to the average data consumption of a smartphone as integrated services such as audio and video streaming become more common in cars.

As data devices, connected cars offer a number of opportunities for mobile operators, but as in the larger M2M sphere, the right business model is needed. One of the leaders in the M2M industry's development is the M2M Alliance, which counts NTT Docomo, Rogers, Singtel, Telefonica, Telstra, Vimpelcom and KPN as members. The alliance's aim is to stimulate M2M applications in a number of sectors, such as consumer electronics and automotives. M2M services open up new business models in these sectors, creating new products and services to drive revenues and helping to lower operating costs.

In 2011, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom also agreed to work together on M2M, as part of a larger cooperation agreement. TeliaSonera later joined the alliance focused on roaming services and interoperability. The cooperation amongst their various subsidiaries and their partners is expected to lead to a seamless worldwide network supporting applications in energy management, healthcare, the connected home and the connected car.

KPN announced early this year that it is the first Dutch provider ready to use the new 12-digit M2M numbers required for M2M communication from March. The strong growth in M2M has led to a need for more numbers, prompting the government to create a new series as there are not enough 06 mobile numbers.

The Dutch market for M2M remains relatively small though, according to regulator Opta's annual report. The graph below shows that M2M's share on the total mobile broadband market is still tiny compared to smartphones.

Source: Opta. 

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