Has eCall’s Moment Finally Arrived?

Has eCall’s Moment Finally Arrived?

The European Union offers drivers a diversity of delights: You can enjoy haute cuisine in Paris in the afternoon and be in Düsseldorf in time to sample a selection of artisanal beers.

But what if you need help in the middle of the French countryside or on the outskirts of a rural German town? The emergency number and protocol, not to mention the language, are different in each.

The European Commission devised eCall, an in-vehicle emergency call system, to address this challenge. When cars are in trouble, eCall units automatically dial 112, a universal emergency number, and are directed to the closest emergency response center.

The eCall unit also sends the car’s location, direction of travel, and vehicle identification to speed response times.

For drivers, the benefits of eCall are a no-brainer. But eCall could be a winner for telematics companies, too.

The eCall opportunity

For all the talk about dashboard electronics, GPS units, rear seat entertainment, and after-market products, most drivers have yet to be exposed to these features.

But if eCall is successfully integrated into the EU’s 230 million cars, telematics companies would have a valuable platform to showcase other products.

“The usefulness of eCall should be judged on its own value to save lives and reduce lasting injuries,” says Monica Schettino, project manager at ERTICO, the intelligent transportation system organization, but “eCall technical components also provide the basis to kick-start other in-vehicle telematics applications."

Safety first

The implementation of eCall would go a long way towards promoting road safety.

According to European Commission research, eCall will save up to 2,500 lives every year, reduce the severity of injuries by 10 to 15 percent, and reduce emergency response times by up to 50 percent.

In addition, road accidents cost the EU economy more than €160 billion per year; research shows that eCall could save €26 billion annually.

Telematics second

The implementation of eCall would also go a long way towards opening up new commercial opportunities for telematics and mobile service providers.

In September 2009, the GSM Association (GSMA), which represents nearly 800 of the world’s mobile operators, formalized its members’ commitment to eCall when it signed the EU’s eCall Memorandum of Understanding.

GSMA CEO Rob Conway sees benefits for the industry, too. For operators, eCall can accelerate the adoption of wireless connectivity in a wide range of devices, he says.

In addition, operators will be able to offer new value-added services, such as in-car mapping applications.

ERTICO is currently orchestrating a pan-European eCall pilot program, scheduled to begin in 2011. The pilot is expected to boost investment in the infrastructure necessary to deploy eCall across Europe.

Roadblocks ahead?

The catch is, a full-scale eCall roll out could still be some ways off.

The European Commission hopes to have eCall units up and running at the start of 2012.

But the EU introduced the eCall Memorandum of Understanding in 2004, and it’s only now that the first pilot is getting off the ground.

Some member states—such as France, the UK, Denmark, and Ireland—have proven reluctant to commit due to cost concerns.

In August 2009, the European Commission called on all stakeholders—EU countries, car manufacturers, telecommunication companies, mobile phone operators—to renew their commitments in order to meet the 2012 deadline.

The need for standardization

Of the countries yet to commit, the Commission said, “They should now take their foot off the brake and speed up the introduction of a system that can save lives.”Even that may not speed things up, though.

“Many stakeholders have adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude,” says Schettino, because standardization work has lasted longer than expected.

Now that the standards needed for deployment are in the final stages, she says eCall stakeholders are again more interested.

Hopefully, that interest will be translated into action.

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to TU.

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