what's next for the connected car?

In anticipation of the 8th annual M2M and Connected Devices event today in Brussels, I spoke to Stephane Petti, Automotive Business Development Director at Orange Mobile Enterprise, about how Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technologies are impacting the automotive industry.  After seeing some connected car services already in the marketplace today, I was curious, what's next? 

After speaking to Stephane, I quickly remembered how incredibly complex (and competitive) the automotive industry is.  Adding a new, highly disruptive technology like M2M has a domino effect of changes throughout the automotive value chain. It's currently impacting the industry in three main areas:

  • telematics – Telematic services connect the car to emergency services or road assistance. In the European Union, a public assistance service, eCall, will become mandatory at the end of 2015. Telematic services have been around since late 1996 when General Motors launched OnStar in the U.S. In the E.U., several car manufacturers such as Volvo, PSA and BMW also pioneered these services in the early 2000’s.
  • driver services – These services provide GPS navigation and real-time traffic or parking information, though the latter can be a bit of a data hog.  The commercial deployment of these services is becoming a fairly mature domain at this point with several millions of drivers who can already enjoy such services today, via Onstar, RLink or Tomtom services.
  • infotainment – This domain is what most consumers are starting to expect when they head to the dealership to buy the latest and greatest car: information and entertainment that’s delivered directly to the car, providing the ability to surf the web, connect to social media, etc.

infotainment is riding shotgun

Imagine this:  your passengers able to spend a six-hour car ride in connected nirvana. The market for infotainment is emerging, but clearly has a lot of potential according to Stephane. The consumer is the biggest driver to this market shift, as virtually everyone is used to being connected at all times in this day and age.  The biggest challenges are data consumption (though increasingly pervasive 4G services should help in many regions)  and roaming, which is more of an issue in Europe than the U.S. at the moment.

There are different models for delivering infotainment to the automobile, and different players have different approachs.  However, in a competitive industry like automotive, margins are quite slim and the margin for error is almost nil.  This means manufacturers are treading carefully into the infotainment market and ensuring their business cases don’t include technology that will become quickly obsolete; whatever is installed needs to be able to adapt over the average 10-12 years the car is in use.

safety and traffic management

In Europe, Stephane explained, the European Union has issued a directive to establish a public Ecall service by the end of 2015 within the whole European Union, which will require all cars to have the ability to contact emergency services automatically in case of a collision. Russia has issued a similar directive, ERA-GLONASS.  These types of services require intense standardization work across several industries (automotive manufacturers, telecom operators and EU member states) which requires working groups involving multiple parties engaged within various standardization bodies (ETSI, 3GPP, CEN).

Technically speaking, the final solution will integrate an embedded control unit with a SIM card within all cars, which will initiate a call to emergency centers following an accident to share the car's location and establish a voice call with the driver.

Navigation, real-time traffic and parking availability information is also part of the connected car's future, and will be important to improve everyone’s driving experience, but also to reduce pollution and preserve the environment. Significant efforts and collaboration are still required in order to have fully trusted traffic information, or real-time parking information. Both citizens and governments should benefit from traffic and parking data, including smart mobility, reduced emissions, fuel savings, reduced traffic jams, and increased productivity. 

what’s slowing down the connected car (apologies for the pun)?

According to Stephane, the internet of things in and of itself is complex, and it becomes even more complex when the “thing” being connected is on the move, crossing borders, and has to operate in spite of human interference.  These connected car services are going to change everyone’s lives, increase safety and help reduce the environmental impact of cars and allow consumers to remain connected to their favorite online services.  At the moment, we’re in the midst of a huge learning curve, with no simple answer to how to enable the fully connected car. It’s going to be a long road, perhaps another 5-8 more years, before the connected car experience becomes the norm, which means 30 more years before the car we know today becomes an object of the past.

While the industry is discovering a lot about integrating automobiles into the internet of things, a great deal of connected car services remain to be invented.  According to Stephane, making the connected car a reality is a long journey that will require cooperation and coordination among all industries (telecom, automotive, etc.) and parties (consumers, government, regulatory, etc.).  Yet, most car manufacturers have already started this journey and are already offering  a wide range of connected services to a broad customer base.

What are you most looking forward to once cars are fully connected to the internet of things?


Katie DeTitta

I've spent more than 17 years in global telecommunications, and was formerly responsible for international social media activities at Orange Business. I enjoy making technology accessible to non-techies and I'm a strong supporter of flexible working.