LG drives towards connected car market with Cerence tie-up

LG has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Cerence to make a play for the emerging connected car market.

The partnership with Cerence, which has recently spun-off from Nuance Communications, will integrate LG’s webOS Auto In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) system with Cerence ARK (AI Reference Kit), to create a new voice assistant for the connected car market.

“We look forward to this collaboration with Cerence to develop a turnkey voice solution for today’s auto and component makers to accelerate the arrival of the connected car,” said I.P. Park, CTO of LG Electronics. “We will continue to evolve webOS Auto by offering a wider range of AI-powered experiences for both manufacturers and auto customers.”

“We are honoured and excited to partner with LG Electronics on a solution that harnesses the collective power and promise of webOS Auto and Cerence ARK,” said Sanjay Dhawan, CEO of Cerence. “This new offering will support automakers and tier-one suppliers as they rapidly innovate, speed the time to market, and deliver a state-of-the-art in-car experience unlike any other.”

Although still in the early days, the connected car market is accelerating very quickly. LG might be a bit a late to the party here and will have to scrap with some big names from Silicon Valley, the telcos and the OEMs themselves.

Looking at the internet segment, Google has been making promising steps forward with its Android Auto in-car platform, while Amazon has Echo Auto, and Apple has CarPlay to steal some share of the connected car segment. The likes of Huawei and Ericsson are also trying to wrestle attention in the space also.

Albeit distant competitors, some telcos have also shown ambitions to play a greater role in the connected car segment. While it does look like the telcos are destined to be the commoditised connectivity partner, the fortunes of this industry are far from settled.

Finally, you have to consider the car manufacturers themselves. The likes of BMW, Seat and Ford want to create a lasting relationship with customers to drive towards a more sustainable industry in the future. Simply selling and maintaining cars might not be enough but owning the in-car experience is one way to create value and new potential revenue streams.

The winners and losers of the connected car segment are far from settled, but this is quickly becoming an incredibly competitive environment.

Qualcomm all-in on cars at CES 2020

At the first big tech show of the year mobile chip giant Qualcomm is focusing on cars rather than phones.

The most eye-catching of its many CES announcements is Qualcomm Snapdragon Ride, a new autonomous driving platform. It consists of the family of Snapdragon Ride Safety SoCs, Snapdragon Ride Safety Accelerator and Snapdragon Ride Autonomous Stack. Qualcomm claims it’s one of the automotive industry’s most advanced, scalable and open autonomous driving solutions, but then it would.

In common with the smartphone Snapdragon platform, Qualcomm is aiming to provide as much of the technology required to enable autonomous driving as possible in one package. Right now that includes the following: L1/L2 Active Safety ADAS for vehicles that include automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and lane keeping assist functions; L2+ Convenience ADAS for vehicles featuring Automated Highway Driving, Self-Parking and Urban Driving in Stop-and-Go traffic; and L4/L5 Fully Autonomous Driving for autonomous urban driving, robo-taxis and robo-logistics.

“Today, we are pleased to be introducing our first-generation Snapdragon Ride platform, which is highly scalable, open, fully customizable and highly power optimized autonomous driving solution designed to address a range of requirements from NCAP to L2+ Highway Autopilot to Robo Taxis,” said Nakul Duggal, SVP of product management at Qualcomm.

“Combined with our Snapdragon Ride Autonomous Stack, or an automaker or tier-1’s own algorithms, our platform aims at accelerating the deployment of high-performance autonomous driving to mass market vehicles. We’ve spent the last several years researching and developing our new autonomous platform and accompanying driving stack, identifying challenges and gathering insights from data analysis to address the complexities automakers want to solve.”

There were a bunch of other related announcements, including new strategic partnerships with GM, Denso and Sasken, as well as some other additions to Qualcomm’s connected car portfolio. Elsewhere the Bluetooth industry received another boost with Qualcomm’s launch of aptX Voice high quality audio. CES has always offered Qualcomm the opportunity to show off what it offers outside of the smartphone space and it seems to be taking good advantage this year.

Verizon bets on connected vehicles with Here partnership

Verizon has decided to bang on about its mobile edge infrastructure at CES 2020 and is using a new partnership with location tech company Here as a pretext to do so.

Here is what Navteq became after Nokia chewed it up and spat it out. It was a big deal when Nokia bought it in 2007 as one of only two dominant satnav service providers. Nokia figured owning it would give its smartphones a strong differentiator but then Google came a long and scuppered that plan, as it did the entire Nokia smartphone business.

Now owned by a bunch of German car companies, who had a whip round to buy it in 2015 for a fraction of what Nokia paid for Navteq, Here is positioned as a standalone location services technology provider. With the advent of 5G and all the cool stuff we’re supposedly going to be able to do with it, Here’s time may have come as operators search desperately for use-cases to justify the hype.

“This collaboration with Here further proves Verizon’s commitment to innovating around and improving location services and pedestrian and intersection safety,” said Ashley Vogt, Senior Product Manager, Advanced Mapping at Verizon. “By harnessing the power of Verizon 5G Ultra-Wideband and 5G Edge, along with Here’s proprietary 3D positioning algorithms, we are driving together toward a safer and more precise future.”

“5G will be a game changer for many use cases in every industry,” said Edzard Overbeek, CEO of HERE. “The scale of the Verizon 5G Ultra-Wideband network is designed to enable higher-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity necessary for more precise positioning, Our partnership with Verizon not only allows us to tap into the innovation potential of 5G but also highlights what is possible when this technology is location intelligence enabled: connected services that are designed to make our world safer, more efficient and environmentally sustainable.”

So the big connected vehicle pitch seems to be around safety, although the future these two companies have in mind is borderline dystopian with its precision and efficiency. The two big initiatives this partnership will be working on are a collision avoidance system that warns people when they’re about to have an accident, and a visual positioning service that claims to augment GPS. It remains to be seen whether these new services will resonate with subscribers to any meaningful extent.

California drives forward with autonomous delivery

California has opened the traps for wide-scale testing and commercial application of autonomous vehicles for delivery companies across the state.

The application process for testing the vehicles will be almost exactly the same as that for autonomous passenger delivery vehicles, though if the companies involved want to charge a delivery fee to customers, an additional commercial licence will also have to be sought. The licences will cover self-driving systems in passenger cars, midsized pickup trucks and cargo vans, and may not have to feature a back-up safety driver.

“The adoption of these regulations means Californians soon could receive deliveries from an autonomous vehicle provided the company fulfils the requirements,” California DMV Director Steve Gordon said. “As always, public safety is our primary focus.”

The conditions for licences which include a safety driver are largely as you would expect, though the DMV has taken a somewhat surprising step by creating a separate list of requirements for vehicles where there is no back-up option.

  • Permission from the local authorities
  • Provide a link between the vehicle and a remote operator
  • Provide a link between the vehicle and law enforcement agencies
  • Demonstrate the vehicle can meet Level 4 or Level 5 under the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) autonomous technology descriptions

There are of course other conditions, including cybersecurity certifications. Interestingly enough, the cybersecurity element is a bit hazy. Whereas other conditions have been linked to specific bodies or agencies for certification, the security element needs to ‘meet industry standards’, a very nuanced term.

As it stands, there are currently 65 companies in California who have permits to test autonomous vehicles. These companies include all the automotive giants which you would expect, as well as the software firms powering the ‘brain’ of the vehicle, though we suspect this list will start to grow very quickly.

The larger logistics and delivery companies will of course want to be involved here, while we suspect there will also be entrepreneurs who will want to create their own fleet to serve smaller companies who exclusively focus on the primary business. Bob’s Burger down the road will never own its own fleet of autonomous delivery vehicles, but it could offer a slice of profits to make use of a supplier’s vehicles.

Telecoms had a good 2019 and expects a better 2020 – survey

Our latest industry survey reveals a an optimistic outlook, largely bolstered by the launch of 5G commercial service, but also helped by innovations and progress in other quarters of the industry.

The newly published Telecoms.com 2019 Annual Industry Survey Report, produced based on the responses to the eponymous survey, took an overview of the industry landscape over the last 12 months and projects to 2020 and beyond. There is a perceptible optimism among the respondents. 57% of them think 2019 has either been good or excellent. Meanwhile, more than three quarters of the respondents are looking forward to a positive or very positive 2020.

“The waiting for the commercial launch of 5G finally came to an end this year,” said Scott Bicheno, Editorial Director of Telecoms.com. “Hardly a day would pass without us reporting some kind of 5G news, either new technology breakthrough or new business initiatives. Improved performance of many telecom companies including operators has also helped improve the mood of the industry, so have the exciting continuous innovations both on the technology and business fronts.”

The report also digs deep into the most pertinent topics of the industry, including 5G rollout and its next step prospect, opportunities and challenges of digital transformation, IoT and communication service providers’ role, and the modernisation of operating and business support systems (OSS/BSS).

The single biggest change in the industry landscape over the past year was apparently the launch of commercial 5G service in different parts of the world. Although so far, the most marketed service is high speed internet access, including on mobile and fixed mobile access, B2B services, including 5G serving other vertical industries, will clearly feature much stronger the near future.

“The success of 5G, including end-to-end network slicing, mandates a unified view across layers and domains, built upon understanding network and service topology and relevance to customers and devices,” commented Dr. Konstantinos Stavropoulos, Solution Marketing Lead, EXFO. “5G mandates actionable insights and intelligent automation to detect and resolve or to predict and prevent customer- and device-impacting issues in real time.”

Meanwhile, there is strong consensus among the respondents that telecom companies need to undergo big transformation to unleash the full potential of new technologies, primarily because the old business model, centred on connectivity provision, is losing values.

“The telecoms.com survey has been for several years the annual health check for the industry. It provides the real insight into what the industry really thinks and cuts through any hype and hyperbole. The results show the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly prospects,” said Martin Morgan, VP Marketing, Openet. “Thankfully this year there’s been more good than bad and the outlook is refreshingly positive. As the results showed the industry has turned a corner: digital transformation is well on track, new revenue streams are opening up and 5G is being rolled out.”

IoT is one of those industries that connectivity is only a small piece on the whole value chain, and telecom operators expect, and are expected, to play a much stronger role in the ecosystem.

“The 2019 survey highlights that IoT investments are well advanced today with the majority of respondents having already started to introduce services, and smart cities, utilities and industrial/manufacturing topping the list of prospective verticals,” said Ann Hatchell, CMO of Incognito Software. “Achieving excellent IoT service quality coupled with operational efficiency is clearly top of mind for CSPs and IoT providers. The research reinforced the importance of remote device management in delivering extensive automation in zero-touch provisioning, automated device discovery, and access to data telemetry to improve business intelligence and monetization opportunities,” added Hatchell.

New opportunities, presented by 5G and other new technologies and new business models, require both the network-facing and the customer-facing support networks to catch up with the change. It is encouraging to see that an overwhelming majority of the respondents recognise the demands for modernisation.

“In recent years, B2B enterprise monetisation was overshadowed by the focus on consumer monetisation which demanded digitalisation in a highly price-sensitive and data-focussed market. B2B enterprise monetisation has been allowed to fall behind in terms of service experience, efficiency and personalisation,” commented Gary Bunney, CEO of MDS Global.

“With the advent of 5G, a growing SME market and the exploding IoT market, this has to change. There are increasing requirements for ‘designed-for’ B2B BSS platforms, delivered as a cloud service, which enable cost-efficiencies and dedicated service delivery. Business demands new digital engagement tools designed for efficient and personalised interaction with enterprise markets, resellers and partners.”

O2 UK reports steady customer and revenue growth

The UK bit of Telefónica has reported healthy Q3 2019 numbers, with all the key metrics headed in the right direction.

Total revenues at O2 UK grew by 4.1% year-on-year, operating income was up 5.7% and the total customer base expanded by 5.6% to 34.1 million. O2 also reckons it has the lowest contract churn in the sector at 1%. Having said that the net adds were fairly flat, maintaining its mobile customer base at 26 million.

“Our Q3 performance continues the strong momentum we saw in the first half of the year, powered by a relentless focus on our customers through award-winning coverage and great offerings such as flexible Custom Plans and limitless data,” said Mark Evans, CEO of Telefónica UK

“We’re moving at pace with our 5G rollout, already live in six UK cities rising to twenty by the end of the year. 5G offers critical support to the UK’s digital economy, supporting jobs and growth. That’s why we welcome Ofcom’s recent statement updating the rules for the planned auction of more 5G airwaves. This will help operators to deliver greater value and better connectivity to the public.”

The other thing O2 seemed keep to flag up was its involvement in a scheme to test driverless vehicles in London via its recently launched 5G network. The project is being run by an organisation called the Smart Mobility Living Lab and it seems to have a fair bit of industry and public sector buy-in.

“At O2 we’re determined to help businesses of all sizes realise the potential of fifth-generation mobile technology,” said Brendan O’Reilly, O2’s CTO. “We know that the transport sector is going to be one of the key beneficiaries of 5G – and that the technology has the potential to reduce traffic congestion, as well as making journeys safer and more enjoyable.

“That’s why we’re excited to be working with the teams at the Smart Mobility Living Lab, who are driving forward our understanding how this next generation technology will fundamentally change the fabric of the cities in which we live and work as well as creating entirely new methods of travel.”

Uber is much more than a taxi firm

To most people, Uber is just a cheap and convenient way to get home after a few drinks, but the scope of the business is extraordinary.

While the inclusion of Uber at a broadband conference might have raised a few eyebrows, the overview given by Global Head of Connectivity Rahul Vijay demonstrated the creativity, innovation and stubborn drive which has ensured Silicon Valley and its residents are some of the most influential in the world.

First and foremost, no-one should consider Uber as a taxi company anymore, at least not in the traditional sense. The taxi’s might still account for the majority of annual revenues, but the team is expanding into so many different areas it is difficult to sum up the business in a single sentence.

Aside from the taxi business we all know and love, Uber has a commercial business working with the travel teams at large corporations, the food delivery business unit is solidly position in a fast-growing segment, the team also work with insurance companies to make sure patients make it to their hospital appointments and it is also making promising moves into the freight world. In markets in south east Asia, the team has launched a 2G-compatible app and is also applying the same business model to mopeds and scooters. In Croatia, Uber has launched a boat taxi service.

These are the ideas which are up-and-running or currently being live trialled, though the R&D unit is also playing around with some interesting ideas. Autonomous vehicles, flying taxis and drone delivery initiatives are just some of the blue-thinking projects. This is a company where a lot is going on.

The interesting aspect of the autonomous vehicles is not just the technology but the supporting connectivity landscape.

“Without mobility there is no Uber,” Vijay said at Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam.

Some have suggested that Uber will never be profitable until autonomous vehicles are commonplace through the fleet, though it doesn’t seem to be the technology which is worrying Vijay; connectivity is too expensive today.

The test vehicles which are currently purring around the highways of North America transmit as much as 2 TB of data a day. This is not only a monstrous amount of information to store and analyse, but the economics of taking this data from the car to the data centres is not there. Vijay said it is still by far and away cheaper to transmit this data through optical cables than over the air, which is not practical. Until 5G arrives, and is scaled throughout the transportation infrastructure, autonomous vehicles are not a commercially viable concept for Uber.

This also opens the door up to another very useful revenue stream for Uber. With more than 110 million users around the world, 200 new trips are started every second. These vehicles are travelling through cities, countryside’s and down highways. The amount of information on mobile signal strength or the performance of mobile handoff between cell sites is boggling. These are only two areas, but Vijay suggested there could be hordes of valuable information which could be collected by the vehicles as they fulfil the core primary business objective.

For telcos, regulators, governments or cloud companies, this insight could be incredibly valuable. It could inform investment strategies or encourage policy changes. If data is the new oil, Uber is sitting on a very significant reserve.

As it stands, the company brings in a lot of money, but the prospect of profits are questionable. In the three months ending June 30, Uber revenues attributable to bookings stood at $15.756 billion. The loss from these operations was $5.485 billion. The transportation game operates on very fine margins. Share price has declined by 28% since this earnings call, though there is hope on the horizon.

If Uber can gain traction in the new markets it is pushing aggressively into there will be increased revenues, though in monetizing assets which it creates organically, the data collected from taxi trips, there could be some interesting developments.

Battle for control of connected car ecosystem has not been decided – Renault

It might be slightly unusual to have one of the worlds’ automotive giants presenting at a broadband conference, but despite the odd fit, there were some very interesting points made.

Speaking to Telecoms.com on the side-lines of Broadband World Forum at Amsterdam, Renault’s Chief Sales and Marketing Officers for the services unit Benoit Joly, gave a statement which will come as a tsunami of relief to the telco industry; the battle for control of the connected car ecosystem has not been decided yet.

This has been the worry of many industry analysts and commentators. When a new segment of the digital economy emerges, can the telcos move quick enough to capitalise on the newly created revenues?

A perfect example of this is in the living room. When the idea of the smart home emerged, the telcos got very excited. Here was an opportunity to move beyond the realms of connectivity service provider and into the promised land of digital services provider. However, progress was too slow, and now it looks like the OTTs own this space through their smart speakers.

In this instance, aside from a few rare examples around the world, the telcos have been relegated to commoditised connectivity providers. In the connected car segment, this is not the case, not yet anyway.

As Joly pointed out, there is a space for the telcos in the connected car segment, above and beyond the dreaded utility tag. Renault is of course working closely with the telcos in this fast evolving but still embryonic area, but it is also working alongside the OTTs. Business models are evolving, and services are still being created, this is an exciting area.

The interesting element for the consumer is going to be the seamless nature of the connected car as an element of the wider digital life. The telcos already have skin in the game, as the connectivity provider, however so do the OTTs; the fraternity which owns the customer experience will reap the profits.

From a purely commoditised revenue perspective, there is of course opportunity. Joly highlighted that the car could be seen as an additional element to monetise, though it is not exactly nailed down how. Should connectivity in the car be seen as an extension of existing consumer mobile tariffs or do the telcos wholesale mobile connectivity to the automotive OEMs?

This element of the equation will perhaps depend on who owns the connected car platform and the supporting ecosystem. Should the telcos win out over the OTTs, there will be a lot more influence to dictate the state of play, or perhaps the OEMs would want to wholesale connectivity? The automotive giants do not want their product to be commoditised, therefore this could be a way in which the OEMs add value to customers beyond the point-of-sale of a vehicle.

There are still a lot of moving parts in this fast-evolving segment of the digital economy, and many questions which need to be answered. The OTTs will of course want to own the ecosystem, and the newly created revenues which come with it, however the telcos will be relieved to hear there is still a chance they can move up the value chain in this segment at least.

Arm unveils the new Autonomous Vehicle Computing Consortium

Embedded chip giant Arm has announced a new industry consortium designed to coordinate industry collaboration over autonomous vehicles.

As well as Arm the AVCC also counts Bosch, Continental, Denso, General Motors, Nvidia, NXP and Toyota among its founding members. Its initial work will involve developing a set of recommendations of a system architecture and a computing platform to promote scalable deployment of automated and autonomous vehicles.

“The future of mobility and the safe, scalable deployment of advanced driver assistance systems to fully autonomous vehicles for mass production requires unprecedented industry collaboration,” said Dipti Vachani, GM of Automotive and IoT Business at Arm.  “The AVCC brings together leaders from across the automotive industry landscape to tackle complex foundational technological and computing challenges to accelerate our path to a truly autonomous future.”

“The massive amount of technological innovation required to power fully self-driving vehicles at scale requires collaboration at an industry level,” said Massimo Osella, AVCC Chairman and lab group manager at General Motors. “We are delighted to join this group of key leaders in the automotive industry. As the AVCC, we are working together to create the ’go to‘ organization for autonomous computing expertise to help bring this technology to market.”

“The AVCC understands the technological complexities and obstacles that need to be overcome for the deployment of autonomous vehicles,” said Satoru Taniguchi, AVCC board member, and Project General Manager at Toyota.  “Toyota aims to work with the other AVCC members to deliver a conceptual computing platform that addresses these challenges.”

Before regulators and general society are prepared to let driverless vehicles share the road with actual people. There clearly needs to be a lot of coordination to ensure things like software interoperability, standardised vehicle-to-vehicle communication and that sort of thing. This consortium seems to have a lot of the right companies involved, but will need to attract many more before it can be considered the default authority on this sort of thing.