IBM Vodafone partnership wins its first clients

IBM and Vodafone announced during Mobile World Congress 2019 that their $550 million cloud and AI partnership has signed its first heavy-weight clients.

SEAT, a Spanish sub-brand of the Volkswagen group, and KONE, a world leading lift and escalator supplier from Finland, have become the first customers of the open cloud and AI technologies offered by the IBM and Vodafone Business partnership.

SEAT is going to use the cloud, AI, and 5G technologies to facilitate its transformation into a “mobility services provider”. KONE’s main interest is in the IoT domain. With the new technologies it aims to move its customer service from reactive to proactive then predictive mode as well as to improve the efficiency of the monitoring and fix operations.

The partnership between IBM and Vodafone Business was announced last month. Although billed as a “joint venture”, Michael Valocchi, IBM’s General Manager of the new venture, clarified to Telecoms.com that it is not a formal joint venture or a separate organization but an 8-year strategic commercial partnership and $550M managed services agreement. IBM and Vodafone Business are going to put in equal amount of investment.

“IBM’s partnerships with global telco companies like Vodafone will help speed up the deployment of 5G and provide easier access to new technologies such as AI, blockchain, edge computing and IoT,” said Valocchi in a statement. “This is because the promise of 5G doesn’t just depend on fiber, spectrum and gadgets, but on advanced levels of integration, automation, optimization and security across the ever more complex IT systems that companies are building in a bid to transform.”

“By providing the open cloud, connectivity and portable AI technologies that companies need to manage data, workloads and processes across the breadth of their IT systems, Vodafone and IBM are helping to drive innovation and transform user experiences across multiple industries – from retail to agriculture,” added Greg Hyttenrauch, Co-leader of the new venture for Vodafone Business.

The partnership will become operational in Q2 this year. IBM told Telecoms.com that by that time Vodafone Business customers will immediately have access to IBM’s entire hybrid cloud portfolio to optimise and enhance their current solutions. These solutions and services are not dependent on 5G. In the future, clients will benefit from new solutions and services that the new venture will develop, combining IBM’s multi-cloud, AI, analytics and blockchain with IoT, 5G, and edge computing from Vodafone.

Considering that Vodafone is going to start with a non-standalone approach to 5G, the use cases for verticals that demand extreme low latency are hard to realise in the near future. The engineers at IBM’s stand also conceded that although Watson can be deployed and trained to support many scenarios, the implementation of mission critical cases will have to wait till end-to-end 5G network is in place.

Telefonica and Seat get the MWC wheels turning

Telefonica is fuelling the hype as we motor towards MWC with connected car announcements alongside Spanish automotive giant Seat.

In an early effort to drive traffic towards its stand, Telefonica has carpooled with Seat to give the green light to three new innovations in the connected vehicles race. While there are sceptics who would want to curb autonomous vehicles enthusiasm, the duo is racing towards a happy middle-ground with three assisted driving use cases.

Firstly, the team will introduce pedestrian detection capabilities, which will allow traffic lights to sense the presence of pedestrians with thermal cameras, before relaying this information onto cars in the nearby area. Display panels will be able to inform the driver of potential risks on the road.

Secondly, connected bicycles equipped with a precise geolocation will notify vehicles in the area when the rider decides to turn right. The bikes will be detected by ultra-wideband beacons placed along the road, and should there be a risk of collision, the driver in the car will once again be notified.

While both these ideas will be powered by edge-computing, the final usecase will rely on direct communication interface. Should visibility be particularly low, stationary vehicles would detect moving vehicles, emergency lights would be turned on while the driver would, again, be notified on the display board.

These usecases might not be on the same level as the glories of autonomous vehicles, but there is a satisfactory amount of realism on display. Autonomous vehicles are not going to be on our roads for a long-time, and while that does not mean we should not continue to fine tune the technology, there has to be a focus on improving road safety today. This is exactly what is being done here.

Another similar concept is being developed in MIT. Here, an AI application analyses the way pedestrians are walking to understand whether there might be any risks. This sort of analysis is something we all do subconsciously, but a very useful and important addition to the connected car mix.

Using lidar and stereo camera systems, the AI estimates direction and pace, but also takes pose and gait into consideration. Pose and gait not only inform the pace and direction, but also give clues to future intentions. For instance, if someone is glancing over their shoulder, it could be an indication they are about to step into the road.

Looking further into the future, when autonomous taxis might be a real thing, this could also be incredibly useful. Of course, the simplest way to hail a taxi in this futuristic age will be through an app, but if the vehicle can see and understand an outstretched arm is a signal for a taxi, it would be a useful skill to incorporate into the AI.

All of these ideas are not only relevant for the long-term ambitions of the automotive industry but also very applicable today. Connectivity and AI can be incredibly beneficial for human-operated vehicles, especially with the advancements of edge-computing and leaning on the high bandwidth provided by 5G. Not everything has to be super-futuristic, and it’s nice to see a bit of realism.

Seat and Orange aim to make car your home away from home

Orange Spain and Seat have signed an agreement to promote new advances in the development and use of the connected car, promising to make it your home away from home.

The agreement itself will focus on three separate areas. Firstly, improving the experience of vehicle occupants by developing connected car services. Secondly, developing the digital home or office experience for car users. And finally, promoting a loyalty programme that promotes the frequent use of new connectivity and mobility solutions they launch.

“We feel privileged to have strategic arrangements with partners such as Orange that give a major boost to our development of car connectivity,” said Seat Head of Business Development Arantxa Alonso. “This partnership opens up a large collaborative space for both companies that are pursuing a common goal – promote the use of the connected car and make the car user’s experience easier and more efficient.”

“This strategic agreement with Seat is a great step for Orange in its strategy of connected objects and Big Data and opens the door to innovations and new developments surrounding cars of the future, which will contribute to helping us achieve our goal of connecting our customers with what truly matters most to them,” said Orange Director of Innovation and New Digital Services for Spain Luis Santos.

While it does sound like marketing jargon, the home away from home idea is simply down to getting those in the car to use the same services there as they do at home. We pretty sure Orange and Seat are not suggesting the driver load up a Modern Family box set just yet, but there are of course numerous services which can be used in a safe manner. Part of the partnership will be a joint effort to create leisure and entertainment services that drivers and other passengers can enjoy.

Of course, while the idea of a connected (or autonomous) car does sound attractive in theory, success to date has been very slow. That said, incentivised customers can be forced out of their comfort zone as we all like free stuff. Offers for discounts on other services, freebies and gifts will be up for grabs depending on how much the customers actually interacts and uses the connected features.

Loyalty is the word being used here, but normality is one which is probably more accurate. Customers might need a little push to use the services, but this will normalize the new ideas in the mind of the customer, and also offer data for Orange and Seat to adjust and improve. The customer gets more comfortable with a scary new thing, while Orange and Seat make the service better. It’s a win for the pair.