To those attending CTIA’s Super Mobility Week in Las Vegas September 9-11, it was clear that we’ve entered a period of divergence. Sensors, multiple platforms, all sorts of devices, computing in clouds, processing in clouds, car companies, connected houses, smart watches and indoor location positioning are being touted as part of the “Internet of Things” that will work together seamlessly. Some day. A highlight of the show was the connected car and Ford held (purportedly) the automotive industry’s first developers’ conference. The exhibit floor was jammed with machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions, some positioned for the Internet of Things, most for traditional telematics. In the past, wearable devices were in the show’s fringe, but new smart watches have mainstreamed wearables.
Telematics solutions were plentiful at CTIA, but these companies are all looking for new markets. The second-largest telematics market in the world is China, but it has been a bit of a mystery. C.J. Driscoll and Associates’ report on the Chinese commercial telematics market was just released. “There are five million fleet vehicles in China that use a tracking system,” says Clem Driscoll. “Regulations are part of the impetus for telematics, but the cost of transporting goods in China is very high, so economics play a role in the adoption.” Almost all telematics devices sold in the U.S. market are being manufactured in China.
Ford, a newbie at CTIA, entered the conference with a bang, hosting what it claimed to be the first developers’ conference for the automobile. Developers from 17 countries participated and received access to simulated vehicle data, including speed, fuel economy and GPS, based on data from Los Angeles. As the night wore on, I expect the floor was littered with spent energy drinks, coffee and pizza in the all-night coding session. Currently, there are 60 apps developed for Ford; the company forbids apps with games, videos and complicated demands on the driver. Ford had been at the forefront of the connected vehicle and already has connected collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, smartphone integration, and parallel parking assistance.
GM is furthest ahead in bringing cars to market with embedded connectivity and, unlike Ford, has plans for an app store. Embedding connectivity into the car greatly deepens the functionality of car apps and also allows for over-the-air updates of firmware and software (FOTA and SOTA). Maintenance issues can be caught quickly. “Software and firmware updates save OEMs the $400-$500 that it costs each time a vehicle is serviced at the dealer for a recall,” said Egil Juliussen of market research firm IHS. “Currently, 70 percent of recalls come into the dealers, but with over-the air-updates, I expect about 95 percent of car owners will obtain updates.” Juliussen expects to see self-driving vehicles on highway lanes in 2017, followed by automated lane switching and local road driving in 2025. His assessment is consistent with other automotive experts.
Besides pleading to the FCC for more spectrum, most keynote speakers talked about technologies or products that require LTE (often called 4G) for fast connectivity. GM, in partnership with AT&T, leads U.S. car makers in LTE deployment. The 2015 Chevrolet Malibu is the first 4G LTE-equipped GM vehicle, to be followed by more than 30 more GM models by the end of the year. In 2016, GM plans to roll out “Super Cruise” for hands-free highway driving, at both highway and stop-and-go speeds, as well as lane following, speed control and braking that will be available in an undisclosed Cadillac model in 2017.
To spur usage, a three-month free data trial is being offered by GM, and 90 percent of owners with cars equipped with LTE are participating. Billing for in-car connectivity is complicated. Few OEMs have a mechanism for collecting ongoing fees, such as for data services. With the GM offering, current customers of AT&T can add a car (similar to adding another phone) onto a phone plan for $10 per month. Otherwise, data can be purchased in increments, the same way some pre-paid phone plans work.
Google and Apple each want to get a proprietary connected platform into vehicles as a way to control the integration of apps with vehicles, as well as to “own” the ecosystem. The traditional automotive players, including the OEMs, have banded together to create MirrorLink, a collaborative, standards-based non-proprietary platform, an effort facilitated by the Car Connectivity Consortium. MirrorLink is being created by collaborators from 105 countries who grapple with standardization issues. “The biggest concern we have right now, is how to get the platform distributed throughout the world,” remarked Alan Ewing of Car Connectivity Consortium. “In three years we will be talking about the ecosystem of apps, and you will see 100 more times than what we see today.” Who prevails with this platform — MirrorLink, Apple or Google — will have a huge advantage.
The location services that deliver content to vehicles and devices have been in the foreground, but there is a quieter category of location services. Companies like LocationSmart and Locate are automatically identifying the location of customers (with permission) for enterprises that include asset management, mobile gaming, financial security services, and customer management services. Initially, the services were based on identifying the location of callers to customer service centers, who could then route callers accordingly. A broader set of use cases is now seen. “We’ve moved far beyond traditional location determination,” says Mario Proietti of LocationSmart. “For instance, LocationSmart is providing financial service companies with the location of a customer’s phone, which is matched with the location of financial transactions.” If a credit card is being used at a store in Chicago while the customer’s cell phone is in Miami, fraud may be involved.
An engaging heat map of all attendees in the exhibit hall demonstrated the power of indoor positioning. On the hall’s ceiling, Mexia Interactive installed Wi-Fi/Bluetooth sensors to receive attendees’ cellular signals. The sensors were spaced at about every 10,000 square feet. Mexia has the distinction of being the only exhibitor mentioning a bathroom use case. A customer is using the sensors to keep 90 bathrooms clean. After the sensor receives signals from a set number of phones, the cleaning staff receives an alert to service the bathroom.
Things people said:
“Wearable smart watches are not quite enough to get everyone to buy one.” — Steve Mollenkopf, CEO, Qualcomm
“Wearables are highly unregulated. Experiential apps will always have a privacy component. The most privacy-sensitive areas are fitness, health and children.” — Rudy Zefo, Vice President, Intel.
“Of consumers looking to buy a car within the next two years, 50 percent are willing to switch brands to get connected services.” — Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO, AT&T Mobile and Business Solutions.
What will we be talking about at CTIA 2015? I’m betting that we will still be focused on the connected car and the Internet of Things. I expect to see more automotive and indoor location companies, and of course, smart watches. And yes, there will be more pleas for added spectrum.