Carmakers, mobile operators, device vendors and other telecom players showcase connected car solutions at MWC.
The mobile telecom industry’s largest trade show of the year, Mobile World Congress (MWC), was held in Barcelona on 2-5 March 2015. Over the years, the show has grown in size and scope as more and more companies and organisations are adopting mobile technologies. This year, the event attracted a record 93,000 attendees from 200 countries that visited conference sessions and exhibitions held by more than 2,100 companies and organisations.
It can be a challenge to pick out the most interesting news at MWC. Not only is it easy to become overwhelmed by the deluge of press releases issued during the show and the weeks before, navigating your way through the crowded halls also takes patience. However, it did not take long to realise that cars had more presence at this year’s MWC than ever before. Many full size cars and concept models were exhibited by mobile operators, carmakers, device vendors and other telecom players that see connected cars as a new business opportunity.
AT&T showed how connected cars can become a part of the larger Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem. The operator’s connected car platform AT&T Drive can now integrate with AT&T’s home security and automation service AT&T Digital Life. Car manufacturers can thus allow their customers to manage their connected home systems from their cars using the Digital Life app through the dashboard control panel. Future connected cars can also support online commerce services. Visa demonstrated a proof-of-concept connected car in cooperation with Accenture and Pizza Hut. The companies intend to test a connected car commerce experience in California in the spring of 2015 that allows users to order and pay for food from their car using Visa Checkout.
The IoT was a major theme at MWC, addressed by countless players in the value chain. Smart cities and mobility services are two topics within the IoT that directly applies to connected cars. Ford announced the expansion of its global Ford Smart Mobility plan with an experiment to study how electric bicycles can work with cars and public transport to deliver faster commutes and help businesses operating in urban centres. Ford presented the two prototypes MoDe:Me and MoDe:Pro e-bikes that fold and stow easily in Ford vehicles. The bikes are intended to be used together with the MoDe:Link app that for instance provides multimodal navigation and integration with the Ford SYNC infotainment system in the vehicle. A majority of carmakers now offer some form of smartphone connectivity, but a few vendors are also experimenting with wearable devices – a category of products that is seen as a new growth market by consumer electronics manufacturers struggling to compete in the smartphone and tablet markets. LG for instance showed how its new smartwatch can be used to unlock the doors of Audi cars. BMW and Hyundai are closer to commercial launch. Hyundai has already introduced its Blue Link app for smartwatches based on Android Wear that allows users to access features like remote door unlock and service information. BMW became the first carmaker to show an app compatible with the new Apple Watch that goes on sale in April 2015. The i Remote App enables owners of BMW i3 and i8 hybrid cars to monitor information such as vehicle status, battery level and estimated charge time, as well as locate the car and unlock doors.
BMW also demonstrated how future cars will better support use of mobile devices by passengers. Together with Peiker Acoustic and Nash Technologies, the company showed the Vehicular Small Cell research project that aims to develop a femtocell cellular base station for integration in the car. The Vehicular Small Cell improves access to cellular networks via the vehicle antenna, whilst reducing electromagnetic radiation inside the car.
The IoT and cars are also seen as growth opportunities for semiconductor companies. The leading mobile chipset vendor Qualcomm, which has been a long time supplier of cellular chipsets for car telematics, continues to broaden its product portfolio for cars. The company displayed a Maserati Quattroporte GTS concept car equipped with Qualcomm Snapdragon Automotive Solutions that for instance provide 3G/4G LTE connectivity, Wi-Fi hotspot, mobile device integration and wireless charging, 3D navigation, lane departure detection, driver distraction alerts and parking assistance.