M2M telematics: Turning the OEM development model on its head

M2M telematics: Turning the OEM development model on its head

Sprint’s Connected Transportation Initiative aims to spread its network to some of the world’s largest mobile devices, including passenger trains and jet planes.
Sprint has gathered partners in the transportation, telematics, applications, and networking sectors to create machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions that it says will green transportation, improve public safety, support smart grids, and even reduce distracted driving.

While Sprint has participated in the automotive sector for many years, mostly through its acquisition of Nextel and its taxi dispatch business, Analysys Mason researcher Steve Hilton points out that there are big differences between dispatch services and today’s automotive M2M sector.

“Sprint is trying to position itself as a full M2M provider to the automotive sector by offering in-car connectivity, a platform for development, and system integration services,” he says. (For more on M2M solutions, see ‘Telematics and M2M communications: The next step for the connected car’.)

The scope of M2M

Sprint’s partnerships span a wide variety of different businesses, showing the potential scope of such M2M initiatives.

Continental Airlines and Amtrak are working with Sprint to install Wi-Fi, digital signage, and infotainment applications to enhance passenger experience.
DriveCam has developed a device that senses dangerous driving and records the action on a video camera, notifying parents or fleet managers.

American Family Insurance offers the DriveCam program at no charge to all of its families with insured teen drivers. (For more on insurance telematics in the fleet space, see ‘How to make insurance telematics work in the fleet space’ and check out at Insurance Telematics Europe 2011 on May 4 and 5 in London.)

Feeney Wireless provides solutions to increase access of public safety staff and vehicles to facilities, databases, dispatchers, and fellow staff members to enhance public safety, communications, and reporting capabilities.

Feeney’s connected transportation solutions let emergency personnel retrieve fingerprint and photo files, reports or records, and retrieve or file records while in the field.

ECOtality is working with Sprint to enable wireless connectivity to residential and commercial electric vehicle charging stations.

PACCAR, parent company of Peterbilt and Kenworth, will introduce SmartNav for Peterbilt and NavPlus for Kenworth, services integrating mobile computing, telematics, navigation, and business systems for the commercial vehicles.

Aeris Communications will provide cellular connectivity to Hyundai Motor America’s Blue Link connected vehicle program launching in 2011, including automated crash notification and SOS assistance, stolen vehicle recovery, and other features. (For more on advanced driver assistance systems like these, see ‘Telematics and ADAS: Ready for take off’.)

A seat at the table

The Sprint initiative turns traditional automotive development on its head, says Tim Johnson, strategic opportunities manager/connected transportation, who is leading Sprint’s Connected Transportation Initiative.

“Traditionally in the auto sector, OEMs were on the top of the mountain and rolling down the specs to their tier-ones: ‘Thou shalt do this or, if not, someone else will,’” Johnson says.

In order to enable broad vehicle connectivity, he adds, “That model has to change for everybody to be successful.”

Instead of the mountaintop, today’s partnerships need more of a dining room table: “All the right entities have to have a seat at the table.”
This initiative does require new faces at the table as well as new thoughts—and possibly new cultures—in the auto industry.

There’s still a dearth of vendors that focus on helping drivers interact with technology while in the car, Johnsons thinks, and meanwhile the industry is changing so fast that strategies need to be revised every few months.

In this fast-moving, wide-open market, there’s room for content companies, software developers, and aggregators to get a seat at the table. (For more on non-traditional players, see ‘Why telematics firms need to work with wireless developers’.)

Sprint’s approach is to pull its somewhat disparate efforts in connecting vehicles and other kinds of machines, plus work in the utility sector, into one initiative, in order to be more efficient and synergistic with its resources.

“Our open philosophy expedited the opportunity to look at it as a whole, global, connected transportation model,” Johnson says, “with a significant expansion of the overall pie of opportunity.”

Making connections

Sprint will accelerate this expansion by linking some of the disparate sectors it serves.

For example, the telco will connect utilities’ smart grids to electrical vehicle charging stations, while enabling connected cars and consumers’ mobile phones to check on availability and charging times at the stations.

At the same time, digital signage could be connected to this data flow in order to provide real-time information about traffic to EV drivers hoping to dock their cars before they run out of juice. (For more on EVs, see ‘Telematics and EVs: Things to do while charging’.)

In the Feeney Wireless solutions, customers wanted to get a better handle on driver behavior and operational costs, according to Steve Carey, director of marketing.

“For example, in winter, especially in cold markets, idle time and fuel consumption tend to go up, while efficiency tends to drop,” he says.
“It’s been hard to marry vehicle data to driver data.”

The solution is a handheld device a driver uses to check into the vehicle, transmitting the driver ID, vehicle number, and route information via Sprint’s network.

Feeney acts as lead integrator, selling its own hardware bundled with a third-party software package that integrates with the customer’s internal databases. (For more on driver data see ‘How to profit from telematics driver data’ and ‘Should drivers have access to their diagnostics data?’.)

Paying up

In addition to connectivity, Sprint also brings its immense billing system to the party.

While wireless network operators struggled a few years ago to track and bill for data services and cell phone downloads, they now have robust back-office systems that could also be used by third parties.

“One of our fundamental infrastructure strengths is our billing. We will bill either overtly or through one of our white-label partners,” Johnson says.
Sprint Mobile Wallet, announced in October 2010, is another example of flexibility within an expanded telematics ecosystem.

The app lets customers save multiple payment methods, including credit cards and Amazon Payments, to the wallet and then use their cell phones to pay for digital or actual goods.

“Our billing infrastructure is an enormous structure, but all the front-end work is only as good as your ability to get and distribute revenue,” Johnson adds.
Sprint will help process a variety of electronic payments for ECOtality’s commercial charging stations.

For ECOtality, third-party support for billing and other back-office functions is important, according to Colin Read, vice president of corporate development.
“Our specialty is the charging stations and the network,” he says.
“The billing aspect is a little outside our core competency, so we will get the best and brightest to help us with it.”

“In the end,” Hilton says, “I think Sprint will find most success offering core connectivity in-car plus maybe a bit of its provisioning platform, but will rely on partners for the rest.”

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For all the latest telematics trends, join the industry’s other key players at Telematics Detroit 2011 in Novi, MI on June 8 and 9.


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