This week Alcatel-Lucent brought its ng Connect "LTE Connected Car" to Europe to demo to press, analysts and partners. It's a concept car for automotive communications, designed to drive home the apps breakthrough promised by LTE which will bring ultra-broadband speeds and, most important says Alcatel-Lucent, low latency. By Ian Scales.
In effect the ng Connect demo car becomes what Derek Kuhn, VP, emerging technology and media corporate solutions at Alcatel Lucent, calls an iPhone on wheels with an app for everything and from every seating position - except the driving position of course (see - NewsDesk: High-speed auto - Alcatel-Lucent lays out its LTE vision on wheels, below). The driver gets to play about with a video dashboard illustrating various car functions and can access driver-specific apps like the turn-by-turn navigation system - games and entertainment, however, are a no-no for the driver for obvious reasons.
So not only can high definition media be piped into the car via LTE, but the system's fast response means multi-user games and er.. multi-user games can be accessed by the passengers when they couldn't before under plain old 3G.
So this is LTE as a use case for the automobile industry, and the auto industry as a use case for LTE-wielding telcos. As Kuhn says, the objective is to start a dialogue which could end in major relationships between players in delivering the technology and services. Part of that conversation will be around business models and Kuhn doesn't rule out the possibility of what we might call 'Kindle-style' services, where the LTE service is bought for the lifetime of the car out of the initial purchase price (and maybe a cut of various revenues from services - should there be any).
The demonstration car is set up with LTE - we viewed it connected to Alcatel-Lucent's demo LTE site at Vélizy to the South West of Paris - and it is indeed an iPhone-users idea of what the ultimate connected car could be like. Just imagine every app and service you can... then imagine them on a dashboard.
An important element with the Connected Car is the QNX operating system which, it's claimed, is a traditional real-time operating system to give the required reliability.
In addition to running crucial car management things, QNX is also able to support mobile operating system apps such as those developed for Android and iPhone, so these familiars can be downloaded and used.
As can personal mobiles and other gadgets (iPods, for instance), which can be connected by wire and by wireless within the car cabin.
While the demo car was a Toyota Prius (always a safe choice given its green credentials) it seems more likely that seriously pimped-up LTE connected cars and (more likely) people carriers using this system will be at the bigger, more luxurious and less green end of the market.
According to Kuhn the idea with ng Connect is to create a connected car ecosystem with members from media and entertainment, consumer electronics, software, navigation and so on. What you end up with is a huge palette of choices to motor manufacturers who want to use technology options to differentiate their vehicles, to create a unique user (passenger) experience to call their own.
So ng Connect gives them an environment in which to pull together an appropriate set of options: just as an example, Volvo could go the safety angle with apps which track the vehicle, take care of security, adjust to weather conditions and so on (possibly); another motor vendor could emphasis its greenery with apps which cut down on journey times, fine-tune the engine all the time and so on.
Given the cost though I predict that most car owners will rather prefer to have a small array of services hardwired, as it were, into the car but will value on-board LTE connectivity to connect portable devices: rather than fire up new, car specific ones.
While in-car engine-monitoring and navigation will feasibly play an increasingly important role on-board, most passengers will surely prefer to use their existing personal devices to play games (interactive or otherwise) watch films and so on, and most car owners will prefer that they do.
After all, if I've got a fully loaded Apple Slate (or whatever it is Mr Jobs is lining up for us) I think I'd prefer to use that for entertainment and communications catch-ups on long journeys and leave the seat-back alone. And then for real entertainment and location-specific information there is always that brilliant media device - the window.
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