Europe – from a telematics perspective

Europe – from a telematics perspective

Both EU member and non-member states are responsible for control of their police forces, ambulance and rescue services, as well as other social services inside their own borders. Private companies (e.g. Mondial or Securitas) and associations (e.g. ADAC or TCB) delivering roadside assistance, security or other telematics-related services, operate within their respective borders, irrespective of whether the countries are members of the EU or not. Even those companies that have European group offices register subsidiaries in each separate country where they operate.

Looking at the implementation of telematics services by each of the four automotive companies that offer systems in Europe at this time, namely BMW, Fiat, PSA and Volvo, their rollouts have been on a country-by-country basis.

They all started in their home markets and progressively added new countries to the list of where the system is sold and services provided. Each of these companies works with its own constellation of central telematics service provider and local call centre and services provider for roadside assistance, emergency call, information and other content. This is as much to comply with country regulations as it is for the convenience of the customer.

Police forces and public service answering point (PSAP) authorities do not normally respond to calls for assistance made from outside their countries in a foreign language. The number and distribution of the PSAPs varies greatly from country to country. Germany, for instance, has more than nine hundred PSAPs that respond to 112 phone calls, while in the UK there are only two centres that are the first line of contact. France requires that a private company responding to an emergency call from a telematics system must be officially registered, whilst other European countries have no such regulations.

One of the most important information services for drivers is traffic information. To date, traffic information has been collected by companies operating in a single country. Examples include ITIS and Trafficmaster in the UK, T-Traffic in Germany and B-Mobile in Belgium.

In some countries, such as Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and The Netherlands, traffic information and dissemination has been under the control of the public sector. But this can change quickly, as it did in Italy, where Infoblu took over this role for the state. Even TomTom, with its new traffic service based on processing mobile phone data and delivering this information to its PNDs via the GSM network, is selling this service one country at a time.

The pan-European eCall system – an initiative started in 2002 by the European Commission and the ITS industry – proved to be more difficult to implement than its backers first thought.

A major part of the problem has been the automotive OEMs' reluctance to put systems in their vehicles before the individual country infrastructures are prepared to accept the messages that would be sent to them.

The non-profit foundation, Björn Steiger Stiftung, is trying to move the process along by offering to serve as the bridge between the vehicles and the country PSAPs. This approach would not be limited to EU member states, but could extend to all European countries that are willing to connect up to the service – for free!

There are other signs that country-centric telematics services model may be changing.

Inrix, a US-based traffic information company, recently announced that it will aggregate traffic information from multiple European sources. Navteq announced in February that it would bring its NavTraffic service to Europe. In the US, NavTraffic and Inrix compete for most of the OEMs' traffic information business.

One of the ways that traffic data is delivered in the US is via the XM/Sirius satellite digital radio network. Madrid-based Ondas Media is attempting to bring to Europe the benefits of high-bandwidth digital data transfer and high-quality digital sound with its own satellite digital radio system. Nissan and BMW have already signed up for the service once Ondas and its partners have put the satellites up in the air, which is scheduled to be in 2011. This will allow data services to be delivered anywhere in continental Europe.

Michael Sena is president of Michael Sena Consulting. He also spent four years with Volvo, where he was responsible for navigation, traffic information and fleet management data activities. He served as an expert delegate to both the European CEN and international ISO standards committees, was chairman of the ERTICO Committee on Digital Map Databases, and has participated in and managed Intelligent Transport Systems international projects. Since 1997, he has managed – for Volvo Cars – the implementation of the Volvo On Call telematics system infrastructure in fourteen European countries.

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