Telecommunications companies are the latest partners to join OEMs in the continuous competition to attract and retain customers.
In January 2014 telecom major AT&T expanded its role in the future of connected cars by launching two major initiatives. One was its AT&T Drive Studio – a first of its kind connected car center in Atlanta, Georgia, and the second its modular, global automotive platform AT&T Drive. Tesla was quick off the mark by entering into a multiyear exclusive agreement with AT&T to equip current and future Tesla vehicles in North America with high speed wireless connectivity. AT&T connectivity will power Tesla’s remote engine diagnostics, telematics, and industry-leading infotainment features such as Internet radio, web browsing, live traffic, weather and navigation. “Tesla’s goal has always been to catalyze the market for electric vehicles for all consumers while providing an exceptional driving experience,” says Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla. “AT&T’s advanced and reliable wireless connectivity will help Tesla continue to deliver a cutting-edge ownership experience.
” The 5,000-square foot-plus facility integrates AT&T solutions across multiple companies, and serves as a hub where AT&T can respond to needs of automotive manufacturers and the auto ecosystem at large. “We’re making a significant commitment to lead the future of the connected car with the launch of the AT&T Drive Studio and our AT&T Drive platform,” says Glenn Lurie, president, AT&T Emerging Enterprises and Partnerships, AT&T Mobility. “Our goal is to be the best carrier for connected car innovation in the world.”
The Atlanta Foundry is dedicated to new wireless services, such as the connected home, car and other consumer electronics. Concepts born in the innovation center will be integrated into AT&T Drive at the Drive Studio in Atlanta. “The sky’s the limit in the Drive Studio,” says Chris Penrose, senior vice president, emerging devices, AT&T Mobility. “We’re going to work with automakers to build innovative solutions to make the in-car experience better for the driver and passengers – safely, with the focus on minimizing driver distraction. We’re also going to use this facility to extend our relationship with the developer community.”
AT&T already provides mobile internet access in both domestic and foreign-built vehicles in the U.S. AT&T was the first to enter the market with a global SIM platform which made it possible for automotive, consumer and M2M equipment makers to work through a single carrier to wirelessly enable and connect products across the globe.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Glenn Lurie, President, Emerging Enterprises and Partnerships, AT&T Mobility. what the strategic thinking was behind the AT&T Drive Studio concept.
Lurie: AT&T has become a leader in the connected car industry because we are dedicated to being the best partner we can be to our auto OEM customers. They are not looking for a one-sizefits- all solution. They are looking for support in many different and new areas in the car and they are looking for help to compete with the other OEMs. We have evolved as an operator that can bring them this innovation and differentiation as well as the technical expertise in these new areas of the car. This is a major shift in the industry and will drive rapid innovation in the connect car. In just a year or two, we heard automakers questions evolve from, “what wireless module and how much does the data cost,” to “can you help us create our connected car experience.” Seeing this, we decided to take a bold step and build a 5,000 square foot facility dedicated to connected car innovation and research, now known as the AT&T Drive Studio.
AI: How important will such a concept have on car design and manufacture?
Lurie: We think this is essential. The best connected car experiences will be born from collaboration among the manufacturer and a host of third parties. Our AT&T Drive platform is designed to deliver exactly that kind of support. Instead of a one-size-fits-all solution, we offer a network of companies within the Drive platform to bring the best new ideas, innovation and technology to the table. That way we can support an automaker build what they need, and integrate technology they have to help them stand out and differentiate from their competition.
AI: What kind of role will the studio play in connected M2M automotive embedded solutions for advanced telematics, apps and vehicle control/diagnostics?
Lurie: The juxtaposition of data like telematics and customer focused data like apps and streaming content is something that is going to create incredible opportunities for the OEM, the driver and the passengers. We have a bifurcated model that allows a car maker to only bill the customer for entertainment and apps, separate from the telematics. In this case a manufacturer can absorb the cost of the data for telematics and we can help them offer flexible billing options, like stand-alone plans or integrated into an AT&T customers existing bill. That bill can come from us or we can manage it for the automaker. The key here is for us to bring flexibility and choices to our OEMs to deliver a phenomenal overall customer experience.
AI: How has AT&T Mobility managed to overcome the complexities of the M2M customized billing challenge?
Lurie: AT&T established pricing teams unique to M2M to develop creative and flexible M2M billing models. We have M2M billing platforms that are distinct from consumer billing platforms, and that provide flexible wholesale solutions in a timely manner. We offer our M2M customers a wide range of APIs that allow them to select the appropriate rate plans for different users at different times during the lifecycle of their devices, and to manage the data usage on enterprise devices. We believe our recent track record of adding new automakers is a sign our approach to billing works well in the M2M space.
AI: How difficult is it to separate passenger and vehicle data?
Lurie: There are different technical solutions to separate passenger and vehicle data. One common way is by tagging the data that leaves the device so it can be identified as either retail or wholesale when it traverses the network. The tag identifies to the network how to route and bill the data. This allows one cellular radio and one SIM to be used in the vehicle, thus making it more cost-effective for the automaker and ultimately, the auto purchaser. Some automakers opt for separating passenger and vehicle data by using two SIMs with one cellular radio. This has a major drawback of only allowing one type of data to be transmitted at a time, because the cellular radio and the network have to switch between subscriptions and this is not real-time. Still other automakers opt for using two SIMs and two cellular radios so they can communicate passenger and vehicle data at the same time. AT&T can support any of these methods, but we believe the most efficient way is to tag the data and use one SIM with one cellular radio, which lowers cost for the OEM.
AI: How important a role do you see fully customized and flexible billing from the M2M Communications Service Providers (CSP) for the automotive industry?
Lurie: Flexibility in billing is essential for the auto industry, as with every other! We are on the forefront of M2M and have been for years on the enterprise side as well as consumer. We connect more M2M devices than any other operator in the western hemisphere. What we’ve seen and learned is that every vertical market has different needs and our goal is to be able to meet them. In fact, we developed something we call the Single SIM, which is a SIM that can be deployed in any country and we can handle the billing or transferring the connection to another operator. It’s one-of-a-kind technology that gives us the ability to make connecting devices around the globe easier for our customers.
AI: AT&T recently announced the Domain 2.0 initiative functioning with the AT&T WAN. Please tell us more about this initiative.
Lurie: The User-Defined Network Cloud will allow us and our customers to create new products and services quicker than before. Customers will have more control and be able to add new services on-demand and in near real-time. We’ll offer a common pool of resources so business customers can use just what they need, when they want it. Expect lots of innovative solutions to be born from this effort.