MWC: Is the Connected Car the New Mobile Phone?

March 27, 2013  - By

This year’s Mobile World Congress, held late last month in Barcelona, featured the world’s largest mobility conference. While there was not a lot of strictly location-based services news, connected vehicles seemed to be the big deal. Ford and GM both made important announcements, sending a signal that wireless information and connectivity is here to stay in a vehicle — and location will be a big part of the growth. On the downside, MWC is becoming a mini Consumer Electronics Show with hotels gouging attendees, long cab lines, heavy traffic, expensive meals and long commutes to the show for those wanting to pay less than $400 a night for a room. Sounds like Las Vegas in January.

By Kevin Dennehy

The recent Mobile World Congress, held at Barcelona’s Fira Gran Via conference center, featured big connected vehicle announcements from Ford and GM. Ford announced a slew of deals, one partnering with Spotify to make Spotify Premium available through its Sync AppLink. GM’s big announcement is that its OnStar safety, security and navigation service will use AT&T Mobility’s network for LTE modules in 2014.

Ford launches Spotify connection.

Ford’s partnership with Spotify gives drivers access to millions of tunes on the road.

Industry observers believe that GM’s announcement indicates the new AT&T deal could give the connected vehicle market a big boost as the units will go into most cars, including entry-level vehicles. Wireless carriers have indicated that transportation remains one of the key vertical markets they are aggressively getting in to.

AT&T pulled a big coup as GM uses Verizon Wireless for its OnStar service. However, published reports indicate that the company has been disconnecting subscribers who are not currently using the service. Verizon said it had lost 490,000 connections in late 2011 — and said the losses were due to decline in telematics customers.

There is no word on whether 2012’s $617 million purchase of Hughes Telematics had any effect on the Verizon-GM relationship.

Overall, OnStar, which costs $18.95 per month, has more than 6 million customers worldwide.

A concern with connected vehicles, and this is an issue that has been around for the past few years, is that automobile manufacturers do not believe the vehicle isn’t the new mobile phone — though some carriers believe it will be. Another concern is the form factor itself — what is better? What will the winner be? An embedded system or a system that integrates with a user’s smartphone?

Not to be outdone by GM, Ford also said its 2104 Ford Ecosport will feature AppLink capabilities. The company also said it would be offering, in Europe, applications from Kaliki, Glympse and Aha. Ford says it now has 2,500 folks registered in its developer program — doubling the numbers from last month.

Ultimately, many analysts say that two major market issues will need to be resolved for the connected vehicle segment to take off. One is what will consumers want? The other is standardization — will every vehicle have the same system in use? Already Ford and GM seem to have differing technology and business models for this market.

Is Mobile World Congress Getting Too Big to be Useful?

With more than 72,000 attendees this year, which is a little more than half the size of the gigantic Las Vegas-based Consumer Electronics Show, is MWC becoming too big and less focused for wireless application developers, LBS companies looking to partner and other location company entities?

Does this sound like a mini CES? The Fira Grand Via had 1 million square feet of exhibit space, 1,700 exhibitors and 72,000 attendees from 200 countries. All of this is puzzling for a conference that had no Google (the company had a big exhibit last year) or Microsoft.

In addition, there were no huge announcements — even the connected vehicle news would be mid-level news at CES. Does it say something strange about a big wireless show when your main news is connected vehicles?

Deciding not to get lost in the hugeness of a big trade show, most of the wireless companies and handset manufacturers choose to make their own product and deal announcements at their own branded shows or independent press conferences. Outside of a handset having LBS capability rolled out, and companies saying they are rolling out capability in European nations, there wasn’t much location-specific news.

With no big indoor position news at MWC, does that spell a struggle for the new technology and potential gigantic market? Many publications, including this one, has touted indoor positioning as one of the technologies that will spur LBS’ market growth.

A few smaller companies did display indoor positioning products at MWC. Rx Networks rolled out its Xybrid Synchro that allows a device to self-located without an active data network connection. The company also rolled out a cloud-based GNSS systems that allows users to determine a location even when weak location signals are available, the company said.

Another indoor positioning company, Insiteo, showed off its products that work on iOS and Android devices to allow users to find booths at MWC. The company says product finding, location-based marketing and data mining are all applications for the platform.

In other Mobile World Congress news:

  • Telit launched m2mLOCATE, a feature that adds Cell-ID location for a range of its cellular connectivity modules. The company uses RX Networks’ XYBRID RT service, a database that encompasses 40 million cell-IDs.
  • CSR demonstrated its Location Services Platform, which features context detection and user self-learning to deliver indoor and outdoor location for the consumer and enterprise markets. The company says the platform has an indoor accuracy of less than 10 meters.
  • TeleCommunication Systems shopped its LBS suite of services at MWC to both enterprise and consumer companies. TCS recently deployed four new mobile operators on its hosted cloud LBS product. The company says it offers revenue-producing branded and private-labeled applications for navigation, hyper-local search, enterprise and family locators.
  • ALK Technologies, now owned by Trimble Navigation, said its CoPilot GPS navigation apps for smartphones and tablets will be available for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. The company said it’s always been high on Microsoft’s mobile products, as CoPilot was originally developed for Microsoft’s Pocket PC. CoPilot features voice-guided GPS navigation, turn-by-turn guidance, trip planning and automotive-grade street maps, the company said. The unit’s live services include Yelp, ActiveTraffic, Wikipedia and Google Search.
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About the Author:

Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.

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