It’s one thing to think about the idea of a “connected” car and something else to sit in one, even if it’s not moving, and play with the touch-screen.
I had the opportunity when application platform provider QNX Software and LTE (Long Term Evolution) network builder Alcatel-Lucent brought their connected Toyota Prius to the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi, Michigan, to show to journalists and prospective customers.
It’s quite impressive. The entertainment possibilities alone are mind-boggling, not to mention real-time trip-relevant information, vehicle diagnostics, comfort features, and whatever else the internal and external network can provide.
Sure, a lot of that is available today, but not at 4G speed – fast enough to enable streaming video – and rarely with an ecosystem of applications and a platform for launching them.
What’s needed to move this technology from concept to production? An LTE network for one. Verizon has announced its commitment to LTE and named Alcatel-Lucent as one of its partners. The rollout is expected to begin in 2010, and Alcatel-Lucent vice president Derek Kuhn estimates it will take about three years for LTE to be almost everywhere.
The cost of in-vehicle hardware is an obvious factor, and Kuhn says he expects LTE chips to surface as early as February. Hardware design and integration will take a while, but suppliers and automakers can work on that during the network rollout.
Perhaps a larger question is how automakers will define and present the business case for connectivity. Until now, they have focused on enabling iPods, smartphones, and other devices that customers bring into their vehicles, or they have provided a relatively narrow range of built-in applications. What happens when the vehicle itself is connected? Will automakers subsidize the cost of connectivity the way network operators currently subsidize the cost of connected devices, or will someone create an entirely new business model? Time will tell – in the not too far distant future. What’s your guess?