Q&A: GSMA on smart cities and connected cars

Q&A: GSMA on smart cities and connected cars

Rooney is an executive director at GSMA’s “Connected Living” program, which brings together strategies and synergies across a number of M2M verticals.

He has a wealth of experience in mobile communications, particularly in enterprise solutions and M2M. 

He has worked for a number of telcos, including Etisalat, Vodafone and Hutchison. He helped Ford Motor Company innovate telematics solutions and develop new revenue opportunities. And he started new companies working on prestigious projects with Motorola and Aston Martin.

Rooney spoke to Telematics Update’s Tom Wellings about the opportunities that smart cities and connected cars present for providers of mobile services, and about the need for innovation and collaboration across industries.

The GSMA represents the global interests of mobile operators and related companies. Can you explain what the Connected Living program is, and how smart cities and mAutomotive fit within this?

The Connected Living program is a nicer name for M2M, and, within this, we have a number of related verticals. Smart cities, mAutomotive, transport, education and health are the main work streams because we see them as the day-to-day things that affect most people.

We are connecting these work streams together to see what collaborative benefits are possible, and cross-fertilization is just beginning to happen. For example, mAutomotive fits neatly into smart cities where we are looking at electric vehicles and transportation systems, and how that would fit in with ITS solutions that may evolve in the city.

Smart cities is a phrase that is being used ever more frequently. What does it mean to you?

There are a number of definitions around smart cities, but our focus is mobile-related. Our official definition is: A smart city makes extensive use of information and communications technologies, including mobile networks, to improve the quality of life of its citizens in a sustainable way.

What are the main hurdles to overcome within the next five years in order for smart cities to deliver on these promises?

It depends on your geography, to a certain extent. While there is a lot of activity in, say, Europe, there is not a lot of money. Lots of city areas and municipalities would love to have smart cities for various political and economic reasons, but, with the economic crisis, that is difficult to fund. That’s why, increasingly, European cities have to look towards public-private partnerships for investment.

When we look at other regions, particularly Asia, it is different. Many Chinese, Korean and Japanese smart cities are very much led from the center, with governments defining the strategy, funding the development and also putting in the regulations and certification for those cities.

So is it a case of technical challenges in Asia and organizational and financial challenges in Europe?

I think that may have been the case a few years ago, but now it is different. Certainly Asian countries have caught up with the game, and they are going at a faster pace now than anywhere in Europe and maybe even North America. We have great examples of smart cities in Shanghai and Dubai.

The GSMA has stated that smart cities are strategically important in the medium to long term for telecoms companies. What opportunities exist for generating revenue in the near term, and how can smaller companies make this work for them?

App development is probably one of the quickest things you can get involved in – there are lots of transport- and location-based service apps out there – and you don't have to be a big company to get in on the act.  We have seen examples of that in Liverpool, where there is a very small company which is providing smart city apps, as well as in Barcelona and London. The GSMA also wants to encourage a developer community for smart cities across the verticals, and we are going to be working on some of those projects next year.

From the huge number of connected technologies, is there a way of prioritizing those that will genuinely offer benefits to the end customer and improve their quality of life?

No two cities are entirely the same. So what tools, apps and systems benefit citizens in New York may be different from London. It will be people power ultimately that will determine what is a success, so the policy we would have is to fail cheap and [to] fail quickly.

Improving the quality of life is part of the GSMA’s definition of a smart city. How do you measure this?

We don't measure this directly within the GSMA, although there are other organizations that do. However, we have a set of smart city indicators in various categories like citizen engagement, economy, mobile broadband penetration and smartphone usage, which are graded either high or low.

I think we are in the early days, and we need a period of time before we can see the impact of smart cities on people's lives. We need to go three or four years down the line where people would have something to look back on and say, ‘Yes, it is now easier to travel to work,’ or, ‘The pollution is lower in the city because of this [intervention].’

Do you think mobile ecosystems in cars should be following the paradigm set by smartphones and tablets?

This is a difficult one because, if you look at the two industries, mobile has short design cycles, and the product lifecycle is pretty short as well – typically 12 to 18 months. In the automotive industry, design cycles are three to four years, and lifecycles are 10 years plus.

If the automotive OEMs are trying to mimic the mobile industry, then it's probably not the way to go. If they are trying to go down the route of consumer-led electronics, then you're into an even more dangerous zone because things happen so rapidly – being able to catch up is going to be a difficult task.

This is where the collaboration between the OEMs, mobile operators and the wider, third-party software communities is very important. … There is a danger in saying, 'I am in control of the customer,’ because we are all consumers, and we will do what we want ultimately. If we don't like something in the car, we will reject it; likewise with mobile phones.

How can the gap between the public’s expectation of what mobile services will deliver and the reality of the experience be addressed?

What we have lacked over the past few years in Europe is innovation, and we haven't delivered what we should have – as demanded by the public.

For example, Europe is way behind the rest of the world in LTE. Even North America has caught up and gone ahead of us, whereas five years ago we led. It’s the same story in Asia and even in the Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia and the UAE now have 80% LTE coverage.

The operators need to invest more, but this requires good business cases. Collaboration within automotive, smart cities and transport initiatives will help that because innovative services will provide new sources of revenue. This really is strategically important, and our role in the GSMA is to get this message across and to assist pilot projects like we are doing in mAutomotive and the Connected Car Forum.

Tom Wellings is a regular contributor to TU.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Content and Apps for Automotive USA 2013 on Dec. 11-12 in San Francisco, Consumer Telematics Show 2014 on Jan. 6 in Las Vegas, Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2014 on March 12-13 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Content and Apps for Automotive Europe 2014 on April 8-9 in Munich, Germany.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013The Automotive HMI Report 2013Insurance Telematics Report 2013 and Fleet & Asset Management Report 2012

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