Every decade has seen generational advances in technology. The 1980s were the decade of enterprise communications and the local area network. The World Wide Web became a consumer phenomenon during the 1990s. In the 2000s, it was IPTV, which has led to today’s multiscreen delivery. Each of these saw a greater number of enabling technologies and stakeholders in the mix than the one before. Now it appears that we’re in the decade of the Connected Car, and if you’ll excuse the term, there is a convergence across more technologies and stakeholders this time than ever.
For communications service providers, the Connected Car breaks down into three broad areas of opportunity. The first is ‘connected infotainment,’ which is access to consumer-facing content and entertainment services using 3G or 4G broadband radio access. In addition to music in the front seat and video in the back seat for the kids, other features that fall within this category include location-oriented services, with content and traffic data used for mapping, route-finding, search and recommendation for points of interest, and to know weather conditions at a destination. Then there’s device presence, which can help drivers locate family members and help others see whether a person (or vehicle) is available over the network, or not. Some vehicles embed applications that enable the user to see a paired mobile phone’s directory and call logs on the in-dash display, and access dialing, messaging and email by voice command, turning the car into another device on the family’s mobile plan.
The second area is telematics, which represents the communications interface between the vehicle and services from outside world. These can be consumer-facing services and content as above, to report and track a stolen vehicle, or report conditions to the manufacturer or other business stakeholders. This can be vehicle-centric service content, for roadside assistance, concierge services, emergency calling, or the conveyance of vehicle status content for remote diagnostics. Enterprise applications include vehicle monitoring for fleet management, monitoring of vehicle speed to provide proof that the driver qualifies for safe driver insurance. It can also be software updates, for consumer-facing apps or for the vehicle itself.
The third area is founded upon the relationships between a vehicle and its surroundings. Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications will enable another broad range of applications. Although this is a much longer-range opportunity than the ones above, efforts are already underway by governments, regulators and technology suppliers to enable intelligent metropolitan transportation systems, to help coordinate traffic based on traffic density, traffic signals and environmental conditions; and even enable toll payment collection.
Another communication-related area is driver assistance, which, for now, is largely confined to the vehicle. Cameras, ultrasonic, or radar sensors mounted on or within the car become the sensory system of the car. Applications include the adaptation of speed to traffic, parking assistance, collision avoidance, lane departure warnings, blind-spot detection, and autonomous driving. Many car makers are in the process of developing and introducing assisted driving use-cases in production vehicles. Autonomous vehicles will need outside connectivity for telematics, V2V, and V2I applications.
Now let’s compare the convergence of TV with the Connected Car. While TVs and connected vehicles must both line up an ecosystem that consists of connectivity, content delivery, a consumer device, a user experience, applications, user management, and security, the Connected Car is a much more purpose-driven and situationally sensitive environment, with little room for error.
While the TV delivery ecosystem is complicated, TV is a relatively forgiving pastime. Sure, we can get annoyed when a TV channel macroblocks just as a home run ball sails over the fence; or just as the winning goal is made deep into stoppage time (and isn’t that what the instant replay is all about?). But the TV experience has no equivalent to avoiding a collision or having to dismiss an incoming phone call while in a stressful driving situation. Those aren’t just annoying, they can be life-threatening.
The moral of this story is that the Connected Car is one of the next great opportunities for mobile communications providers. It’s both a target-rich and highly challenging environment. Quality of service, efficient software and effective integration will be key considerations. Continuity of experience will be of the utmost importance, as the vehicle moves from one location to another and then another, to ensure that content delivery is accurate and uninterrupted – especially when the data is mission critical.