Who really knows where the connected car is headed? One of the best views on the journey belongs to Joe Mosele, the VP for IoT Solutions at the world’s second biggest communications service provider.

The connected car is nothing new to the visionaries of AT&T. They were getting cars to talk back when it was called telematics, says freelance technology writer, Nick Booth. This was at least a decade before anyone had even coined the term V2X. So, it’s safe to assume that the telco has learned some lessons the hard way and will share that valuable experience with the right partners. Finding the right partners is the hard bit.

Cars as hotspots

Since 2014 AT&T has been pioneering the use of LTE to turn cars into Wi-Fi hotspots. Initially, the purpose was to give all the devices present in the car – the tablets, gaming consoles and phones – the bandwidth to take infotainment to the next level, says Mosele. But it’s a very different world now.

Like most telcos, AT&T faced the challenge of finding a way to make money from all the ‘content’ that ran over the infrastructure it kindly provided for others to profit from. It could retake control by owning the process of taking infotainment to the next level. This would put AT&T at the heart of future revenue streams.

Its current deal for customers entices them to turn their vehicle into a powerful Wi-Fi hotspot on an unlimited data plan.

“Now we’re looking to improve the experience not just for the vehicle [i.e. the passengers and devices] but for the drivers too,” says Mosele. Beyond 2018 that will mean a step up in communications systems between vehicles (V2V) and the infrastructure that creates their technical environment (V2X).

Joe Mosele, AT&T

The number of developers that the mobile telcos employ is a guarded secret. We can say that there are two main projects under way. The first is AT&T’s Drive Studio: a telematics system that helps insurance companies get a better picture about our driving. Improved intelligence will enable them to reward the demonstrably good drivers and shift ‘responsibility costs’ to the clients who are more expensive to manage. Its a sort of fair play scheme for the roads.

The other project will reward drivers who use their cars more efficiently. The aggressive gas burners, who alternate between over-revving and brutal braking, will have to pay for their anti-social profligacy. Good for you, AT&T!

All these positive initiatives are the fruits of a partnership with the 500-acre purpose built American Centre for Mobility, in Ypsilanti Township, near the traditional motor trade heartland of Detroit, Michigan. As connectivity becomes key, will Detroit switch from ‘Motown’ to ‘Cotown’?

Pretending to lead

The connected car and the wider IoT market are going to be crucial to a comms service provider like AT&T and it has to invest heavily to stay in front, says Moesele. But who can guess the future with any certainty? For this reason, AT&T will have to invest heavily in partnerships in order to stay in front – wherever a particular ‘front’ breaks out. Nobody knows which way this parade will eventually lead, so everyone has to keep running in front of it and pretend they are leading it.

Which is where the opportunity for inventive IoT Now Transport readers arises.

Any hints, Mr Mosele? The most important variable to be on top of is location. Every vehicle must know exactly where you are. This is especially true in Europe, where few roads are labelled consistently, if at all. The only way to know which road you are on is to look at a screen. As the IoT maps the world, it sounds like it is adopting the mantra of the property market, where only three rules matter. Location, location, location.

The author is freelancer technology writer, Nick Booth.

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