A model tries out a digital tachometer, a network-connected driving recorder, on a test vehicle during a technology exhibition by telecommunication company KT in the COEX, Seoul in September. / Korea Times file
Mobile operators seek to turn car into IT device
By Cho Mu-hyun
With new innovations spawning from information technology that changes our lifestyles, one of the most anticipated of all advances is the arrival of smart cars.
As with mobile phones and other products vastly improving with faster connections and previously unimaginable services, telecommunications companies are now eyeing how to change automobiles into next generation information technology devices.
Mobile operators have been looking for new revenue pipelines to expand their business portfolios and the huge subscription base offered by the car industry is one of the most tempting.
Besides being extremely cool, smart cars will be an accumulation of all that is offered by advanced information technology: long-term evolution (LTE) for better connectivity, motion sensors, cameras, robotics and computing components.
Meanwhile, automobile companies, stale from competing amongst themselves to offer greater horsepower, are readily embracing the collaboration to gain an edge.
Internet giant Google and Japanese auto company Nissan have both showcased self-parking cars that follow simple orders from a driver using a smartphone, along with additional features offered in contemporary vehicles such as global positioning systems and of course a range of in-car entertainment features which are now a given in most models.
According to the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, the global automobile-information technology convergence market was valued at $864 billion in 2008 but will grow to $1.764 trillion by the end of the year. It will be worth $2.112 trillion by 2015.
The domestic market has also grown at almost the same rate. It was worth $40 billion but will likely expand to $83 billion this year and $123 billion by 2015.
ABI Research estimates that there were 45 million "connected cars" last year and expects this to rise by 210 million by 2016.
Domestic telecommunications giant KT has shown snippets of what is coming in its collaboration with global automobile giant Hyundai Motor. Its campaign has been focused on providing infotainment (information and entertainment), telematics and crucially, increased safety features.
Korea's largest fixed-line operator has one of the biggest advantages over its rivals thanks to its affiliate's rental service provider KT Rental and broadcaster KT SkyLife.
The firm launched the Blue Link service in April, which it dubbed "the next-generation of telemetrics." It has been applied to Hyundai's 2012 Santa Fe.
Subscribers to the service can use their smartphones via an app to start the engine, open doors and turn on emergency lights. The radio signal from the mobile device is transmitted to a KT-owned network center.
If an accident occurs, emergency calls will automatically be made. The status of the car will also be uploaded.
Much like airplane black boxes, automobiles have started to carry digitalized recorders that use carriers' networks. The so called digital tachograph was launched in June and is based on cloud technology and keeps a driving record as well as giving guidelines on how to drive economically and safely.
The system decreased gas costs by 15 percent, carbon emissions by 14 percent and accidents by 30 percent, according to KT during testing.
Connected cars will also help consumers save on insurance through new products that are charged according to the number of kilometers traveled.
New converged services are being prepared: children will be able to download games from special stores designed for car apps and instantly upload and play them using a display and joystick provided for those in the back seat. CD players in vehicles will become obsolete, thanks to the fast download speed provided by LTE that will enable drivers to download songs they want to play and hear instantly.
Near field communication, which allows transmission of radio signal through touch, or LAN will allow smartphone users to transfer the app they are using on television screens within a car and continue activities (called phones to cars by the Car Connectivity Consortium).
Industry observers say all of these services will be widely available and commercialized within five years.
Most companies are jumping in. SK Telecom has been working with Kia Mortors while United States carriers AT&T and Verizon are working with BMW and General Motors respectively.