Issue: Jul 2005


Call for telematics standards



That the automobile continues to evolve is beyond debate. To a large degree, this evolution is being driven by government regulations, which over time have mandated such features as emission controls and enhanced safety features. But consumer demand has been an equally important force in this evolution.

by Don Husat

That the automobile continues to evolve is beyond debate. To a large degree, this evolution is being driven by government regulations, which over time have mandated such features as emission controls and enhanced safety features. But consumer demand has been an equally important force in this evolution.
Systems that were once standard only on luxury vehicles now have migrated down the price ladder to be included on even some of the least costly vehicles offered today. Power steering and brakes, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning and CD players are now generally factory installed up and down the various model lines because consumers want and expect such amenities. And as technology continues to evolve and become cheaper, consumers will expect more and more of it to at least be made available at reasonable cost, if not as standard equipment.
There are, however, obstacles to the growth of some automotive technology. Telematics is an example of one technology that is being growth-inhibited because of a lack of standardisation among the various layers of telematics providers, according to Anders Franzn, corporate vice president, M2M Communications, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications. As Franzn sees it, telematics will not reach its growth potential until these providers change their mindsets to recognise that they are dealing with something different to telephone handsets.
Telematics differ from handsets. Handset makers and service providers are working to keep their customer base by customising their products and services. By so doing, they hope that their customers will be less prone to changing providers. This, he says, may well be good for the cell phone industry because its value chain is not highly complex. There are the handset makers, the service providers and the end users. But he adds that more sophisticated telematics applications involve another whole service layer, and until that layer can be standardised, significant growth of telematics cannot occur because it will be too costly. Variants from a standard device in this level of telematics may seem to be a good business strategy because it can be customised to give service providers a competitive edge locking device to service, Mr. Franzn notes. But because these variants are costly, they are generally affordable only to purchasers of high-end vehicles. On the other hand, achieving standardisation will significantly reduce the cost of telematics, thereby making them affordable to a broader segment of the automotive market and driving industry growth.
As those who understand the automotive industry know, consumer telematics now are largely limited to safety, security, concierge and some entertainment services. And while the number of vehicles that can access these services is growing, there are few lower priced ones that are included. But, as noted, if telematics can be made less costly, there is growth potential in expanded services (such as downloading movies, music and maps to in-vehicle entertainment and GPS systems). Additionally, services now available only on premium autos, or as a costly option, could eventually become as standard as air bags and CD players are now.
One might ask why once optional and costly features like antilock brakes and CD players are now available up and down the automotive price scale, while telematics are still inhibited by cost. The reason, says Franzn, is that these systems are integral to the car and have a large degree of standardisation, while telematics are largely customised, and require integration between the operators and service providers. Franzn believes that when these obstacles are overcome, telematics systems will also become standard equipment on a wide range of vehicles, and all parties will benefit.
As a major player in the telematics industry, Sony Ericsson is working to bring this issue to light. Our goal is to get the major industry players talking about the issues, Franzn, says, but so far, each feels that it is someone elses problem. However, the fact remains that you cannot have both customisation and standardisation, and I believe that the industry will benefit far more from standardisation at this point.
Agreement on standards is not unheard of in the telematics industry. While cellular-telephony-based telematics currently operate on different cellular standards throughout the world, CDMA leads the way in density of service provider mandated variants. But there is hope, Mr. Franzn believes. We are constantly involved in trying to educate the industry about the need to standardise, he adds. My objective is to spread this debate beyond ourselves. We have raised the issue with our competitors at industry conferences and trade shows, and are working to establish an industry group.
Cost factors ultimately affect the rollout speed of any technology, concludes Franzn. Open standards will result in quicker takeoff, more units sold, more service activations and, ultimately, more revenues to all players including those in the service layer.
Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications was established in 2001 as a joint venture between Sony Corporation, and Ericsson, a leading telecommunications firm. The company operates globally based out of England, with major R&D offices in Germany, Japan, Sweden and the United States.


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