Wireless carriers face FOMO vs. FOBFA test

ITU

Something peculiar is unfolding in the wireless industry. While wireless carriers enthusiastically report new fibre and smartphone connections to their networks along with correspondingly robust revenue streams, there is little or no mention of automotive connectivity.

Even Verizon, in the United States, with its budding commercial fleet portfolio comprised of the vehicle connectivity assets of Telogis and Fleetmatics, acquired years ago and combined, merits nary a mention on the earnings call with analysts. AT&T, too, the big dog in embedded vehicle connections in the United States, relegates its automotive activities to the shadows – presumably immaterial to the broader financial prospects of the organization.

The same phenomenon is playing out in Europe, where the likes of Orange, Vodafone, and Deutsche Telekom are operating 5G test sites for connected cars but barely making a peep regarding long-term plans in their public statements. In Asia, as well, Docomo, SK Telecom, KDDI and others are heavily engaged with car makers, but with little revenue yet to show from years of connecting cars.

What is behind the great hush that has descended over car connectivity?

Where is the excitement?

The great hush

Ten years ago, wireless carriers were thrilled about connecting cars because the focus was increasingly on so-called value-added services such as vehicle diagnostics and service scheduling. Usage-based insurance also contributed to the rising interest and awareness.

As the years passed, with carriers maxing out their smartphone connection growth and the Internet of Things (IoT) bandwagon failing to move the revenue needle, new embedded car connections were seen as a way to increase “activations” for “emerging devices.” In fact, some carriers worked with car makers to enable Wi-Fi connections in cars to open up automotive streaming.

All of that excitement, collaboration, product development, and noise came to naught.

There was some in-vehicle Wi-Fi action and there were some drivers that chose to stream content via their embedded modems, but the data plans weren’t right and the user experience was less than thrilling.

Even the prospect of adding a car to an existing wireless plan, as AT&T pioneered in the U.S., or the coming dual-SIM-dual-access (DSDA) solutions due later this year from some premium auto makers in Europe, are not expected to fix the failure to deliver respectable, reportable revenues for carriers from connected car platforms. Even the onset of “data monetization” is proving insufficient to the task of real demand formation.

5G rising

But just over the horizon, that 5G sun is rising – promising high speed, lower latency, higher capacity in-vehicle connections. Twice burned, carriers are cautious to steer toward this latest siren song of vehicle connectivity, wary of promises made and promises not kept.

The third wave of vehicle connectivity – (the first being eCall, the second diagnostics and UBI) – is rolling toward the automotive industry shore riding a crescendo of marketing around core technical advances including network slicing, multi-access edge computing, and the PC5 interface enabling direct inter-device communications. For wireless carriers, this looks like the moment to take a stand.

The onset of 5G brings with it the cachet of enhanced safety-related crash avoidance and autonomous driving tech.

Cars equipped with 5G technology will gain improved situational awareness and greater positioning accuracy.

The market remains cautious. These enhancements to driving will come with increased expectations from car companies regarding quality of service and coverage. At the same, new features and functions will be dependent in-part on thus-far non-billable V2X communications.

Putting connectivity to work

Will fear-of-being-fooled-again (FOBFA) replace fear of missing out (FOMO) in wireless boardrooms? At a time when increased commitment and investments will be necessary to deliver on the promise of 5G – from infrastructure to in-vehicle user experiences – will wireless carriers stay the course? It will be different this time.

At stake is the fate of two industries: automotive and wireless. Millions of lives are also at stake – the 1.3 million that are extinguished annually on highways globally.

All indications are that vehicles will soon be exchanging more data from streaming content to location and sensor information. That increased data volume promises new business models and revenue opportunities for organizations that make the investments to meet the challenge of this connectivity revolution.

Revenue will come to the committed over the long-term. In the short-term, the higher goal of saving lives ought to be enough to sustain the interest of both automakers and wireless carriers in putting connectivity to work for the greater good.

For more insight, join the Future Networked Car Symposium happening this week. Learn more and register for the four-day event here.

*The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ITU.

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