The highway to a wireless future
John Okas of Real Wireless discusses the drive towards a connected vehicle world
When considering the business case for the roll-out of wireless connectivity on the roads, it is both harder and much less obvious than other forms of transport.
On other transport – such as planes, trains and ships – regardless of how complex and diffuse the sources of revenue may be, ultimately there is a clear passenger-centric demand, which enables transport operators to justify investment. But the terrestrial nature of road networks means that usable cellular connections mostly already exist.
The main challenge for all parts of this industry is how can we best make use of wireless connectivity? What actual or latent user needs can we meet, and what new revenue streams can be created? Welcome to the rapidly converging domains of telematics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and smartphones. The new world of connected vehicles is already available in the premium sector, and will trickle down to other price points very quickly.
We need to look at both new wireless technologies and ways of adding capabilities to existing cellular networks: can we leverage conventional technology to deliver new services and solve problems?
In terms of new technology, much of the emphasis has been on vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) systems. Such technologies allow, for example, a vehicle to tell the one behind it that it has detected an obstacle and is going to brake hard, which could possibly avoid a rear end collision.
Similarly V2I systems allow road operators to gather crowd-sourced data from multiple vehicles and make routing decisions. One example is the American Vehicle Infrastructure Integration, which seeks to increase safety by providing vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-roadside communications through Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) technology. DSRC has been used successfully in automated tolling systems for many years. Unfortunately, it is not compatible globally and the frequencies used (around 5.9 GHz) limit range, making it ideal for tolling but less attractive for other V2V/V2I applications.
Using existing standards could sensibly mean cellular (for example LTE). This allows services to benefit from current and planned deployments by mobile network operators. There is also an initiative to extend Wi-Fi to add a V2V mode (802.11p).
How it works
So how does a car connect to a 3G or 4G network? There are two diff erent approaches. The first method is built into the car at the point of manufacture and provides services that the vehicle owner usually doesn’t get access to – such as the vehicle OEM gathering usage information in order to assess long-term component wear, schedule maintenance or manage a recall. Such inbuilt systems are designed in from the start, sit on the vehicle’s bus and today use a SIM. However, OEMs and their suppliers would like to get away from the logistics of handling large volumes of of SIM cards in a manufacturing environment.
The second way to provide connectivity is by using a phone or tablet in the car, which connects either by a wire or Bluetooth. The holy grail of this approach is to replicate the phone screen on the vehicle windscreen, and allow users to access their apps in-car – subject to certain safety protocols. As a result, navigation, music and many other incar capabilities could be provided from your connected device.
This highlights the first major issue – which type of operating system do you have: Apple iOS, Google Android or Windows Phone. Apple’s Carplay and Google’s Android Auto are designed as vehicle operating systems that replicate the interface of your device. This means you already know how to do things like make a call, set the navigation and stream your music without having to learn a new system.
Usability leads on to the second issue – the device and OS suppliers battling for control of your car’s ‘operating system’ with the car OEMs. It’s too soon to tell how this particular battle will end. However, most consumers will see many benefits in their car controls being familiar and simple.
In all likelihood vehicles will probably have both the external and built-in connections outlined above, operating at the same time as they serve different purposes. This could include DSRC or similar as well for tolling and V2x applications.
Once connected the innovation gates are truly open! For insurance organisations, one of the big drivers for wireless is from intelligent telemetry. They are able to collect real-time metrics around vehicle and environmental factors. This data allows them to construct an accurate model of the moments before an event, understanding quickly what went wrong, and assigning responsibility. This results in huge savings by avoiding protracted analysis and disputes, both of which are expensive and time intensive.
Telemetry is also appearing in real-time ‘pay-as-you drive’ insurance services. By monitoring driver behaviour, the insurance company can increase or decrease premiums to accurately reflect real driving and the consequent risk, and hopefully in the process modify any poor driving.
Drivers will see many benefits to having their device capabilities available while driving – their car becomes another device in their digital world. Think big data and cloud; suddenly your car can tell you if it might fail because an engine performance parameter is more than x per cent outside the norm. Your car could even check your diary and book itself in to the workshop while you’re driving home.
Counting the cost
So who pays and for what? Clearly the cost of installing any additional on-board hardware and software falls to the OEM. But what is their motivation for increasing product development and manufacturing costs for others’ benefit? This has been a major concern for the OEMs: how do they share in the revenue opportunities and how do they prevent others from ‘siphoning off’ money in the connected car age?
There isn’t a simple answer – as cars become ‘things’ on the IoT then the whole ecosystem is changing. As margins from selling cars have dropped then OEMs and their dealers look to find new ways to replace these margins with internet-related capabilities. The connected car simply enables such a change and allows entrepreneurs to try new ideas.
The roll-out of wireless infrastructure and better connectivity on transport links has been a long time coming, and there is consumer interest in the benefits it can deliver. But rarely does consumer interest alone translate into a viable business case, one that can justify the significant upfront expense and deliver a return on investment. This is why we always stress the importance of independent advice when considering a new wireless opportunity.
Careful analysis of all the potential direct and indirect benefits wireless delivers usually helps construct a much more viable business case. In the case of connected vehicles, this becomes even more difficult to ascertain given the number of stakeholders involved, the many technology options and lack of clear business models. Oh, and there are of course two elephants in the room: coverage and autonomous vehicles. All of the benefits of a connected vehicle evaporate if there isn’t any coverage – included within that term I must count capacity as well.
Then we come to autonomous vehicles (selfdriving cars). This is still a rapidly developing technology, but most autonomous systems rely heavily on cellular connectivity for accurate positioning, including recognition of surroundings as well as V2V systems for situational awareness.
The future for connected vehicles looks like it will be a step change in automotive engineering. To gain from it, the wireless industry needs to ensure that investment in new technology and infrastructure matches the appetite of the users embracing these new and evolving capabilities.
John Okas (pictured) is a founding member of the Automotive & Transport SIG, examining the future of connected & smart vehicles
Images. Main: Connected Vehicle Cloud is based on Ericsson’s Multiservice Delivery Platform (MSDP), which provides infotainment, apps and communication services in Volvo’s new cars. Courtesy Volvo Car Group. Top: With a Wi-Fi unit in each vehicle and on key elements in the traffic environment, vital information can be shared and exchanged. Courtesy Volvo Car Group