AT&T and Vodafone discuss new automotive alliance: “It could be a game-changer, truly”
More from the cutting room floor, leftover from the early 2019 conference season, which should have made the cut in the first place.
Here, following initial discussion with Cameron Coursey, vice president of IoT product development at AT&T, about the drive by operators to make LTE-M and NB-IoT easier and cheaper to work with, the conversation shifts to AT&T’s deal with UK firm Vodafone around the automotive market.
The pair have pooled their resources to accelerate adoption of mobile technologies in the automotive industry. They will collaborate, they said, on simplifying global roaming and connectivity for car manufacturers, as well on future 5G and cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technologies.
The arrangement covers innovations in connected vehicle systems and intelligent transportation system (ITS) for urban mobility and smart cities, besides. The chat with Coursey was followed at MWC 2019 in Barcelona, back in late February, by a parallel discussion with Phil Skipper, Vodafone’s head of business development for IoT. (The rest of the conversation with Skipper, about private networks and industry, appeared here.)
But below, belatdely, we have spliced together the two interviews with the two execs from MWC 2019, to appear as a single piece discussing their companies’ new alliance on connected cars and future car technologies. (See also video interviews with Coursey and Skipper at the bottom of this post.)
Can you talk about the tie-up between AT&T and Vodafone on connected cars, and what this means?
Coursey: “It could be a game-changer, truly. Because even in the automotive industry, those telematics control units have to be certified. And the less burden to do that, the better it is for the automotive manufacturers. This [agreement] helps because it means there are fewer things to test [with us] than with other players. The other thing is how we provide an operational model once the vehicles launch to in different countries. It is hard on these manufacturers if there is a different process for them in every market. We want to make it simple for them to operate with us.”
Skipper: “We’ve been working with AT&T for a number of years. AT&T typically takes care of the domestic US market, and we provide connectivity for Europe. That’s the way it works, whether the car manufacturer is American or European. We connect about 70 per cent of vehicles in Europe. Together, we can connect cars anywhere. But the automotive manufacturers don’t actually find telcos that easy to work with – because we all offer the same services, but we all do it in a different way
“They want it to be simpler, and that’s where the conversation with AT&T started – about how we can align our roadmaps more effectively, to get a consistent service for these car manufacturers. What we’ve done is create this alliance, which just makes it easier for them to offer the services they want to offer through two networks – so a car driven in Aberdeen provides the same level of service as a car driven in Albuquerque. That’s what they’re after.”
And that, despite your roaming partnership, hasn’t worked seamlessly until now?
Skipper: “It’s all about the provision. It’s not necessarily the network connectivity piece of it but how easy it is, and again it comes down to that supply-chain provisioning question. It’s not the technology, but the end experience – you shouldn’t be able to see the join between AT&T and Vodafone. That’s what we were trying to do – to make it a really consistent service. And there’s no reason why it can’t be opened up to other operators, especially in Asia. It’s also non-exclusive, so if a car maker just wants to go with AT&T, it can. But the idea is this alliance brings our roadmaps closer, and drives this consistent level of service.”
Is this alliance a springboard for future innovations as well? Are you both looking to drive new technologies together – autonomous driving, intelligent transport systems, this kind of stuff?
Coursey: “We’re going to work together on new technologies, on testing them, and making sure that they’re available for the automotive industry. We’re both parts of the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA). We both have board seats on that. And that is an organisation that is bringing together these two worlds – the automobile manufacturers, their suppliers, and the wireless operators – in a way that’s never been done before. So a lot of the things being worked on in there will benefit from this alliance with Vodafone as well.
Skipper: “We are both strong in automotive, already, and there’s a lot of development to come, as we go from connected vehicles to as-a-service offers, and eventually to autonomous driving. There’s real opportunity for our two organisations to focus on vehicle-to-everything (V2X) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), and safety systems, and all of the other things that will be needed. So, when automotive manufacturers have a more connected proposition, it is based on a more coordinated platform, so we don’t end up duplicating between the two companies. Because duplication means difference, at the end of the day.”
Can you square the circle for me around your respective positions on C-V2X – where Vodafone has come out very squarely in favour of the C-V2X versus the EC-backed wi-fi-based ITS-G5 option, and AT&T appears to be walking the line on C-V2X and DSRC?
Coursey: “With regards the link between vehicles, not between the vehicle and the network, we believe the industry needs to come together, and governments need to make a decision on that technology so progress can be made. We want that to happen. But whether it is the C-V2X or DSRC, which is the incumbent technology. We don’t want to be the ones to make a strong stand one way or the other. We think the automotive industry and the governments need to make a decision.”
Skipper: “For us, we’re firmly in the 5G camp for these services. We’re working on a global capability for cars, at the end of the day, and not a network type of capability. You need to look at it from the output you’re after, rather than the technological input. I think everyone is waiting to see how the dust settles on that. We believe 5G is the solution; others are not decided.”