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.
This past week, Apple announced CarPlay, a rebranding of its iOS in the Car initiative that was announced at its June 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference. My own answer to the question I pose in the title above is at the end of this article.
Having been around the IP video and IPTV world for almost a decade and a half, I can recall how many times the IPTV plane was on the runway and seemed poised for takeoff. I remember writing an article in January of 2002 for Cable & Satellite International, titled “TV over Copper: Is 2002 the year?” With 20:20 hindsight, no it wasn’t.
By then, a lot of Telcos had already launched TV-over-DSL services to paying subscribers, going back to Canada’s Aliant and Kingston Interactive Television in the UK in the late 1990s, followed by Livingston (TX) Telephone and the UK’s Video Networks Ltd (and other pioneering independent operators) by the end of 2000. By 2005, there were hundreds.
The real turning point was when the large incumbent Telcos were able to reach scale. In the US, it was when AT&T and Verizon began to deploy their respective U-Verse TV and FiOS TV services at the end of 2005. In France, it was France Telecom’s MaLigne TV, along with a group of broadband competitors offering hybrid IP-satellite TV. In Hong Kong, PCCW’s Now TV had reached 750,000 by the end of 2006, and was the world’s largest IPTV provider for several years. In 2009, PCCW hit a million subscribers and had about 1/3 of the Hong Kong pay TV market.
My 2002 article was all about the transition to IP from Asynchronous Transfer Mode. In other words, it was about the network. But a lot of other tumblers had to fall into place before the real potential of IPTV could be unlocked: set-top boxes, middleware, MPEG encoding, standardized network architectures, content security, best practices for video quality assurance, and much more; not to mention the content itself. Each time one of the tumblers clicked, we all thought we were on our way.
It’s tempting for people watching the auto industry’s steady progress to fall into the same trap. After all, Apple is in this now, so the Connected Car category must be mature. But that’s still far from true. Consider some of the early adopters. One was Ford’s Sync, based on Microsoft Windows Automotive Embedded technology. The conventional wisdom in 2009 being that Microsoft, of course, was going to own the Connected Car (just as they “owned” IPTV between about 2005 and 2010, which was arguable because AT&T was by far the largest single customer. Most of the others were small and some never deployed).
But Microsoft followed success with surrender and exited the IPTV space in 2013 by selling its Mediaroom unit to Ericsson, which will certainly transition the 45 or so Telcos using that platform over to something a little more Ericsson in nature, in the long run. So it’s natural to question Microsoft’s situation with Ford, given that Ford has recently been in the news with both Google and Apple.
On the heels of Apple’s CarPlay announcement, 9to5 Mac ran an article that asked “Will CarPlay impact your next car purchase?” And consumers weighed in with some obvious comments “Most cars already have a touch screen, so (why not buy one that integrates) with my main device.” and “Will Apple … have updates?,” “I’m sure there are safety concerns,” and “All I need on the dash is heater/AC and an AM/FM radio…” One technology-informed responder said “…(because) it relies on Blackberry’s QNX underpinnings … I can just schlep down to Best Buy… and pick the car stereo of my choice, as long as it uses QNX.”
Each of the concerns make valid points: compatibility, usability, relevance, not going out of date. It’s also not hard to envision the average car buyer wanting to choose the mobile OS that they already live with, just as they do for exterior paint and interior upholstry.
QNX happens to enable the virtualization of client operating systems, so a single QNX-based IVI system can conceivably host iOS, Android and Windows Embedded for Automotive. Linux-based operating systems like QNX or GENIVI (or even techology initiatives like MirrorLink) can enable auto OEMs and aftermarket suppliers to create an OS-neutral environment. But none of the car companies offer anything close to that yet to consumers, and automotive product lifecycles are (ahem) a lot longer than software lifecycles.
Another piece of the ecosystem is wide area connectivity. The Connected Car has been a strategic initiative for a number of major Telcos in Europe, Asia and the US, which has made it one for their network suppliers as well. iPhone reseller AT&T has a compelling vision for the Connected Car, and already enables application developers to leverage APIs into services that include U-verse TV, smart home, location awareness, mobile messaging, and mobile payments.
This January, AT&T announced its AT&T Drive connected car developer platform during its Global Developer Summit in Las Vegas, which coincides with CES. Soon afterward, AT&T opened its AT&T Drive Studio at its Atlanta GA Developer Foundry facility. AT&T also partners with GM (which is embedding 4G LTE capability in all its cars by the end of this model year, and is sure to help address the need for in-vehicle software updates).
So, will CarPlay really be the catalyst to bring the Connected Car into the mainstream? In a word, no. A significant step, maybe: along with Siri Eyes Free, which is available in some Chevy vehicles, it may represent a mainstreaming point for the in-vehicle user experience. But the Connected Car is an ecosystem and the possibility that AT&T, GM and Apple might be working alongside one another toward the same goals (even if not together), is a show of category maturity.
Once again, just as it was with IPTV a decade ago, a lot of tumblers must click into place, and no single party is in control of all the tumblers, except arguably the car companies, which are the most conservative actors in the entire initiative.
Note: Steve Hawley will be conducting a conference session on the Connected Car at the 2014 TV Connect conference in London, which takes place from March 18 to March 20.
Here’s wishing my readers a happy and prosperous 2014! Strap in – 2014 promises to be a great ride.
It’s a bit late for Happy New Year, but a week at CES provides a good excuse. Over the next week, I’ll be presenting my CES experience here.
2014 CES highlights included:
- AT&T ‘s 2014 Developer Summit!
- The 2014 Consumer Telematics Show, all about the Connected Car!
- New TV software, with features that might actually be useful!
- The battle of the Whole Home TV giants!
- Giant curved TV sets!
And much much more.
On November 14, 2013, Steven Hawley conducted a Webinar about the Connected Car, for Multimedia Research Group (MRG), an SNL Kagan company. The Webinar goes with a comprehensive industry report written for MRG by Steven Hawley of Advanced Media Strategies during 2013. For further details and to view the Webinar, click here.
MRG has published a new report by Steven Hawley of tvstrategies titled “The Connected Car – New Opportunities for Service Providers, their Suppliers and Software Developers.” The new report provides an in-depth introduction and analysis of the Connected Car, which is the next great market opportunity for companies that provide telecommunications, pay-TV, online video and digital home solutions to consumers. This opportunity is equally available to companies that provide the devices, software, and infrastructure elements that enable those solutions.
As happens each year, the opening keynote at Apple’s 2013 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) on June 10 included the unveiling of several major new Apple products that will be available later in the year. During the keynote, Apple Sr. VP Eddie Cue announced iOS in the Car, which embeds Siri voice commands into the car, and identified sixteen automobile companies that are working with Apple.
Read the rest of this article on Telecompetitor Plus (Premium content)