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An In-Depth Look at Trends in Automotive Telematics

Mon, 12/14/2009 - 11:48am
As telematics becomes more widely implemented, one of the issues the automotive industry faces is the cost of post-deployment field maintenance of wireless solutions.
Olivier Beaujard, Vice President Market Development, Sierra Wireless (formerly Wavecom)

An In-Depth Look at Trends in Automotive Telematics
The rapidly growing M2M (machine-to-machine) market is already a $50 billion business with projected growth to over $250 billion by the end of 2012. Despite the global economic downturn, which has hit the automobile industry particularly hard, car makers continue to show a strong interest in automotive wireless telematics.

Companies like Wavecom, recently acquired by Sierra Wireless, have long recognized the significant market opportunity around automotive telematics. Wavecom has delivered more than 10 million wireless modules and modems to a range of top-tier automotive brands all over the world, and as a result, has stayed on the industry forefront of emerging trends.
Remote Diagnostics and Vehicle Tracking
In the early days of automotive telematics, a great deal of development was focused on services to drivers. However, current major trends include functions which often do not involve interaction with the driver at all. For example, remote diagnostic applications can monitor the vehicle and communicate with external services to organize repair and maintenance. Additionally, using over-the-air communications, car manufacturers have the ability to remotely reset and/or restart some electronic processes within the vehicle.

Vehicle tracking —— another example of a remote application —— has existed for many years and continues to become more sophisticated and more widely adopted. Vehicle tracking enables navigation and alert services as well as provides a means to track stolen vehicles, making it a way to retrieve relevant local information as well as an essential tool for preventing theft.
A Need for Intelligent and Remote Device Services
As telematics becomes more widely implemented, one of the issues the automotive industry faces is the cost of post-deployment field maintenance of wireless solutions which, in automotive electronics, have a particularly long life cycle compared to consumer applications such as mobile phones. These challenges grow in complexity given that during a 10-to-15 year life span, carriers will change their networks and the application software itself will need to be updated to meet new market requirements.

Remote software update services can overcome these challenges by providing secure end-to-end solutions that enable remote monitoring and configuration of the wireless embedded module, remote network and traffic analysis, and over-the-air software upgrades. Intelligent device services may also reduce the need for vehicle recall campaigns, which are costly and can damage the car maker's image and brand. Using these services, real-time information can be accessed to diagnose issues and take action before the end-customer feels any negative impact.
Navigation Solutions on the Rise
An increasing demand for navigation solutions with relevant traffic information and services has become more important than ever and navigation is also a strong area of focus for mobile operators. One way companies have been addressing this growing need is through map updates from connected Portable Navigational Devices (PNDs) which combine a positioning capability, such as a GPS, with navigation functions. The opportunity is opening up attractive business models for services in mobility and is challenging Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and tier-one Location Based Services (LBS) companies to follow the trend in order to boost customer demand. In fact, the industry is already starting to see these applications begin to emerge with examples including real-time traffic updates mapped to the user's particular location on the road and other location-specific information being automatically "pushed" to the vehicle.
Safety Standards and Intelligent Transportation Systems
With regards to safety, Europe has made significant headway with an initiative known as eCall in an effort to establish a Europe-wide, location-enhanced emergency response network based on the Europe-wide emergency phone number: 112. eCall is a combination of an In Vehicle System (IVS)—a device integrating both wireless connectivity and GPS location capability—and a corresponding infrastructure of Public Safety Answering Points known as PSAPs. The European Union (EU) is promoting eCall to reduce the number of roadway fatalities by minimizing the response time when an accident has occurred. When the IVS device detects an accident, it calls a PSAP, transmits the vehicle location and other data, and leaves a voice connection established.

eCall is expected to contribute to the goal of reducing the number of highway fatalities in EU countries by one half by 2014. The 112 number is accessible from the majority of mobile phones in Europe and in most places it is accessible from GSM phones without a SIM card.

We also expect to see Ford's Sync, OnStar and similar solutions become available in more vehicles in North America as telematics and "infotainment" platforms become more widely adopted.

Additionally, another area that is without question of global concern from both a political and environmental perspective is traffic reduction and management. At the heart of this endeavor are intelligent transportation systems. It will not be surprising to see highway tolling extended into local roads and parking facilities as wireless connectivity between vehicles and banking services make automatic tolling straightforward.

This connectivity extends the scope for other services such as the concept of "pay-as-you-drive" which is essentially a form of Vehicle Remote Management (VRM). With pay-as-you-drive, internal sensors monitor vehicle speed and driver behavior to construct a picture of the driver's safety. While still not widely used, driver insurance premiums may very well be partly determined by this kind of data in the future—with consistently safe drivers being rewarded by paying lower premiums. This technology has the potential to influence driver behavior, reduce individual insurance premiums and improve road safety.
Inclusion of Infotainment
In the area of infotainment there has been an increasing number of developments including Internet access and 3G connectivity in multimedia platforms. Within two to three years, the industry anticipates that the premium segment of cars in North America and Europe will become the early adopters of infotainment telematics systems. Although the premium segment will introduce these new high-end systems leveraging 3G technologies, a wide range of car manufacturers are already looking into integrating a variety of these types of products into a broad range of vehicle models.
2G versus 3G and Beyond
While there is a gradual transition from 2G (GSM/GPRS) to 3G wireless technologies and beyond, 2G standards continue to play an important role. 2G's mature, ruggedized and stable communications technologies are essential for the automotive industry, making it likely for both 2G and 3G products, as well as CDMA 1X and EvDO, to remain in the wireless communications portfolio of industry leading companies for some time.

There is no question the advancement in wireless standards and technologies will continue to benefit the automotive industry exponentially. Whether for navigation, management, safety, infotainment, or all of the above, the future of automotive M2M wireless telematics is a bright one.

Olivier Beaujard is vice president market development for Sierra Wireless, www.sierrawireless.com.
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