The automotive industry is undergoing a transformation with the rise of the internet of things (IoT). The traditional digital technologies in the automotive industry, which largely focused on optimising the internal functions of a vehicle, have evolved significantly in recent years. Automobile companies are now developing digital machines in partnership with mobile network operators, adding connectivity features to the vehicles and enhancing the in-car experience. The connected vehicles sector is fast emerging as a new revenue stream for telecom players. It will allow them to form deeper relationships with customers. Telcos play a critical role in the connected car ecosystem as modern cars use e-SIMs and Wi-Fi hotspots to communicate with other connected vehicles and IoT devices.

A connected car not only optimises its own operations and maintenance, but also provides convenience and comfort to passengers with the help of on-board sensors and internet connectivity. IoT technology lies at the heart of the connected car concept. These cars can follow lane lines, monitor the speed of the vehicles in front of them, assess road conditions, and communicate with stoplights to know in advance when to put the brake in order to avoid crashes. These features also help ease traffic congestion.

The industry is currently witnessing the emergence of Connected Car 2.0, wherein vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology will make it possible for vehicles to communicate with smart traffic signals and even conduct a transaction at a petrol pump. The connected car segment, one of the fastest growing application areas of IoT, is estimated to generate $40 billion (Euro 36.2 billion) worth of revenues per year 2020 onwards.

Role of telcos

Strong network connectivity is an imperative for the success of connected cars and this is where telecom operators step in as they have an edge in IoT deployment. Telcos have the capabilities to deliver carrier-grade networks that meet all necessary requirements. They are also uniquely positioned to work with multiple partners, collaborating across consumer and industrial segments.

Leveraging their experience in technology deployment, telecom operators can deliver an integrated solution, which can be customised for specific use cases. This may involve everything from providing special SIMs to creating managed connectivity platforms for IoT deployments that give clients visibility and control over the assets.

US-based AT&T has partnered with car companies such as Audi, Chevrolet, Honda, Ford, Acura, Jaguar, Porsche and Cadillac to offer in-car Wi-Fi services. The in-car Wi-Fi feature turns the user’s car into a powerful hotspot and allows connectivity of up to 10 devices. Using this hotspot, several users can stream, browse and share on the go, experiencing 4G long-term evolution wireless connectivity.

Vodafone is currently working with more than 70 per cent of European original equipment manufacturers, notably BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and Daimler. It helps them ensure customer satisfaction, improve customer maintenance and open up new revenue lines. Stolen vehicle recovery is an additional end-to-end service offered by Vodafone. In August 2014, Vodafone acquired Cobra, later consolidated as Vodafone Automotive, which provides a range of end-to-end services including usage-based insurance and a secure operating centre for stolen vehicle tracking, vehicle recovery and crash reconstruction. Furthermore, all Porsche cars feature Vodafone devices that allow vehicle location monitoring.

Meanwhile, Bosch, Vodafone and Huawei have been performing trials of the new, high performance Cellular-V2X technology in Europe since 2017. The technology allows cars to communicate with other vehicles as well as its own surroundings through mobile telephony. The companies are demonstrating that a driver assistance system such as adaptive cruise control not only warns the driver, but also automatically adjusts speed and controls braking.

Meanwhile, the Volvo Car Group has partnered with Ericsson to use the latter’s industrialised Connected Vehicle Cloud (CVC) platform to further expand its digital vehicle services to more than 120 markets worldwide. Volvo Cars is increasing its focus on high quality connected vehicle services. These services will benefit from the launch of commercial 5G networks, which will provide increased speed, low latency and high capacity for mission-critical applications such as autonomous driving. The deal will enable Volvo Cars to provide car owners and drivers with the latest digital services such as automation, fleet management, telematics, navigation and infotainment. Delivered via several geographically distributed centres, CVC fulfils all the legal, security and privacy obligations on a global scale.

In India, Hyundai has recently showcased the connected SUV Venue, which is equipped with an inbuilt tamper-proof device powered by Vodafone Idea’s e-SIM. The SUV sports Blue Link, Hyundai’s global technology to be launched in the Indian market with 33 features including 10 India-specific features. In April 2019, a customised solution developed by Unlimit in partnership with Cisco and Airtel powered the connected experience in MG Hector. The connected mobility solution is also Intel Protocol Version 6 ready, making it the first e-SIM-enabled internet car in India, which will redefine connected mobility. In 2017, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited signed a contract with AirWire Technologies to offer the latter’s connected car IoT devices to Indian customers. Under the partnership, AirWire Connected Car devices will be manufactured in India. These devices will operate on Jio’s pan-India 4G network, enabling customers to use connected car applications and services such as hotspot, location-based applications, automobile telematics, security and safety.

Connected car services

These can be both customer centric as well as business centric. Some of the key connected car services are:

  • Communication/Connectivity: Emergency calling, roadside assistance, collision detection, Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Remote services: Stolen vehicle tracking, monitor child driving, locating cars in parking lots, adjusting car settings
  • Telematics/M2M analytics: Insurance, repair, traffic management, retail

Big data, big opportunity

In the connected car space, a plethora of data gets captured by IoT sensors. This data may pertain to the consumer’s driving habits, driving behaviour, etc. Based on an understanding of the consumer’s frequently visited places, a software solution can determine whether the driver is going to work, the mall, the grocery store, or on a vacation. By getting the coordinates of a consumer’s destination, the connected car could provide information concerning sales, places to eat, things to see along the way, or other local attractions.

This data can also be analysed to help drivers ensure safety and improve efficiency by tracking driver and passenger behaviour, introducing new features and solutions, alerting drivers, and implementing repairs without physically taking the car into the mechanic shop.

Going forward, the data traffic associated with the mobility and transportation sectors is estimated to grow by 9.4 exabytes every month 2030 onwards as autonomous vehicles will become more mainstream. This will open up new opportunities for data mining and analysis.

The way forward

The connected car space provides big opportunities for telcos. The need of the hour is to adopt go-to-market strategies and align them with the demands of the market they are catering to. For instance, developed markets such as the US will focus more on remote monitoring solutions, while telematics solutions will be suitable for emerging markets like India, where telco analytics is more relevant.

Akanksha Mahajan Marwah with Ananya Khurana