The Connected Car is emerging rapidly to become one of the largest and most coherent IoT (Internet of Things) sectors, as witnessed by the proliferation of conferences and exhibitions devoted to the subject. It has so far been confined chiefly to the luxury sector, but is already fast becoming mainstream, with 50% of all new cars now coming with some form of Internet connectivity. This will quickly rise to almost 100% and by 2020 20% of the value of new vehicles, about $600 billion, will be associated with “connected life”, according to technology consulting firm Machina Research.
By then Connected Car technology will not just have become mainstream but will also have expanded in scope beyond just accessing basic infotainment to embrace navigation and safety, with a growing role in another trend that will gather force later, towards self-drive vehicles. In the immediate future though infotainment itself will be the major driver of growth in connected cars as they progress beyond basic low speed Internet access.
The Connected Car is a huge opportunity for the whole mobile phone industry that it cannot afford to miss, for the big Internet players like Google and Apple are circling with serious intent. Car makers themselves are seeking partners and mobile operators need to have strategies in place to meet them with interesting propositions. The key point is that the car can only be connected over mobile networks and is not really a Wi-Fi opportunity. Even if Wi-Fi hot spots become absolutely ubiquitous across all public places where people congregate there is no way they can cover the whole road network at all economically. Only cellular networks can approach the universal coverage required for the Connected Car. Then given that cars are also prone to cross national boundaries, especially in Europe, there is also a great opportunity for MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) to score with propositions that take care of the complex ongoing relationships between say car manufacturers or dealers and the different MNOs (Mobile Network Operators).
There are still a number of debates to be settled over the exact course of connected car evolution, notably between the tethered and embedded models. The tethered model would involve users’ smartphones for connectivity while the intelligence and apps would reside in the car. Under the embedded model, both the connectivity and the intelligence are built directly into the vehicle, making it easier for car makers to enable apps and services “out of the box”. It is possible for both models to coexist in a hybrid approach, with smartphones acting as sources of apps that would show up on the car dashboard via an embedded system.
One quite likely scenario is that initially the tethered approach will help gain traction around some form of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach but that over time embedded will prevail as car makers perfect in-built connectivity and enable flexible interoperability with users’ devices. This is certainly the view taken by research group Analysys Mason, which suggests that 90% of all new cars will have embedded connectivity by 2024. This in turn begs another question, which is how many SIMs cars with embedded connectivity will have. At the moment it looks likely the connected car will become a multi-SIM environment, like other sophisticated systems, given that there is a trend towards SIMs being dedicated to particular application or service categories. In the case of cars, voice connectivity, infotainment delivery, Internet access and navigation could all have different SIMs. One of the challenges therefore could be in managing the complexity of multiple SIMs.
Another question is over what apps will be come along. Manufacturers will quite rightly have concerns over quality, safety, security and reliability and rather as has happened in other sectors such as mobile TV, will not want to tarnish their brands by unleashing a plethora of shoddy products. Initially infotainment is likely to predominate for delivery of music, video and traffic information, but over time navigation will feature increasingly. Currently in-car navigation is mostly GPS based involving static maps with relatively little facility for taking account of real time traffic or weather conditions. The Connected Car will enable integration between mobile networks and GPS to facilitate automatic route planning with updates in real time. This will also feed into the parallel movement towards self-driven cars, which will integrate real time information beyond their immediate field of vision. Then things will get really interesting as the whole in-car experience will change inexorably for both drivers and passengers.