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Connecting the connected car

Connecting the connected car

Connectivity is driving both economies and far-reaching changes in lifestyles. Vehicles are becoming moving always-on data hubs. Gartner predicts there will be a quarter-billion connected vehicles on the road by 2020 – and “the proliferation of vehicle connectivity will have implications across the major functional areas of telematics, automated driving, infotainment and mobility services.” 

A recent study by AT&T and Ericsson, found that three out of four consumers consider connected car services an important feature in their next car purchase. AT&T added nearly 1.6 million connected devices during the first quarter of 2016. Of those devices, more than a million were cars.

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Chris Penrose, senior vice-president, Internet of Things, AT&T, what the company is doing in the connected car space.

Penrose: We now have relationships with 19 of the top car brands, who are connecting vehicles through AT&T. In 2014, we opened the AT&T Drive Studio in Atlanta to develop and test new technologies that improve safety, convenience and entertainment in the connected car. With the opening of the more than 5,000 square-foot facility we became the first carrier with a dedicated connected car research and innovation center. The AT&T Drive Studio features a working lab and showroom. It serves as a hub from which we can respond to the needs of automotive manufacturers. The objective is to move rapidly from idea to product.

This is truly an environment in which we pull together automotive-grade software and hardware solutions. We have created a multi-platform environment that appeals to the developer community. The great news is that we have been joined by a number of companies, and several thousand young people have come through the studio. Our focus is on road safety, and educating consumers on the dangers of driving and texting. In order to curb road fatalities we believe we need to offer technological solutions.

AI: How are you supporting the globalization of the industry?

Penrose: We were one of the first in the industry to create a global SIM, which is currently deployed and used in connected devices around the globe today. OEMs can put an AT&T chip in the car during manufacturing. Using different solutions we can provide connectivity in over 200 countries and territories.

AI: How does AT&T support the connected lifestyle?

Penrose: We are connecting things that have never been connected before. This is showcased in the integration of the connected car with the AT&T Digital Life smart home security system, which is available to OEMs via the AT&T Drive Platform. You can set up certain actions to take place automatically as you approach your neighborhood. Your car can automatically and seamlessly turn the lights on and adjust the thermostat, for example. When you leave home the car can switch on the alarm and even warn you if you forgot to close the garage door.

Cars and smartphones also need to work seamlessly together. The same goes for wearables such as a watch. There are many other great opportunities when you tie things together seamlessly. One is the management of fleets. You can optimize routes for delivery, track assets and respond to challenges such as road congestion or change requests from customers. AI: What is your vision with “Smart Cities”?

Penrose: We have created a smart cities framework that takes a holistic approach to helping cities move towards building a smarter city. Using Internet of Things (IoT) innovations, our framework consists of four pillars—highly secured connectivity, technology platforms, strategic alliances and vertically integrated solutions.

The strategic alliances pillar takes into account that no one company does it all. To this end, we are collaborating with leading technology companies and industry organizations to support the framework. Together, we will use our existing and jointly developed technology solutions to help cities save money, conserve energy, increase efficiency and improve the quality of life for their citizens.

We will initially introduce our framework in select spotlight cities, which include Atlanta, Chapel Hill, Chicago, Dallas, Miami-Dade County and Montgomery County, MD, as well as the Georgia Institute of Technology. As part of this program, we are working with our spotlight cities to understand the challenges they are facing and determine the solutions that will best address their needs. It is important that we provide solutions and services in the areas in which the cities themselves want to make changes. Right now, we’re in the scoping phase and eventually we’ll begin to implement the agreed upon solutions. We’re excited to use Internet of Things (IoT) innovation to help these cities better meet the needs of their citizens.

AI: How fast is the global demand for connected car services growing?

Penrose: It is growing very fast. There is tremendous momentum from OEMs. We added a million connected cars to our network this past quarter. Consumers expect their cars to offer the same connectivity and services as their smartphones. They also want the car to provide a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. We understand that car manufacturers are also seeing benefits. They are able to update the software in vehicles remotely, and they can obtain information on performance in near real time.

AI: Is there not an overlap between a smartphone and a connected car?

Penrose: There are a lot of services that need always there, always on connectivity. The connected car helps the driver to manage a number of services remotely, such as starting up, location, and switching on the air conditioning. We are also able to use the car architecture to provide superior data experience in car. Using a data antenna built into the roof of a car we can provide a broader reach and footprint. Then if we look ahead to new services such as autonomous driving you will need to have embedded connectivity.

AI: What about remote parts of the world where there are no cellphone towers?

Penrose: Earlier this year, AT&T announced that we are now offering both cellular and satellite connectivity for remote areas through an alliance with Globecomm. As a company, we are very focused on offering multi network solutions.

AI: What are you currently working on in the AT&T Drive Studio?

Penrose: Some of the most exciting things are in this space around vehicle communication and Smart Cities. We also continue to work on minimizing driver distractions. An example is a platform that will read your messages to you. To reply you can dictate your message. It is a total voice experience to ensure that the driver keeps his or her eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

AI: What can car buyers can expect with AT&T connectivity in the near future?

Penrose: AT&T provided the connectivity for over 50% of all new connected passenger vehicles in the United States last year. We are working with some of the top global car brands to provide connectivity to its customers. OEMs have recognized that there is a lot more opportunity to differentiate their vehicles in the market-place if they have connectivity.

We are helping the OEMs to differentiate through a customer-focused approach. Once we understand who the target customers are for a particular model we can explore the range of services that are available in a digital format. The AT&T Drive Platform is a modular, global solution that lets automakers pick and choose what connected car services and capabilities are important to them.

AI: Who is going to pay for the in-car connectivity?

Penrose: There is a lot of flexibility for OEMs to select a mix suited to their market. There is an entire application store with a set of apps and services for vehicles which allow us to customize solutions for every model. Through our unique split billing capabilities we are able to differentiate between data flowing to and from the OEM (which they pay for) and data for which the end consumer is paying.

AI: What’s next for AT&T?

Penrose: With the evolution of the Internet of Things, we want to connect everything. We have great expertise in all the verticals, and are able to provide a highly secure experience around the world – for virtually everything, from cars to trash cans.


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