In the first of a three-part series, Jan Stojaspal examines the impact of eCall on fleet telematics
For those OEMs and fleet operators worried about missing the boat on eCall and a host of other up-coming European Union initiatives expected to reshape everything from how accidents are reported to how road tolls are collected, how is ‘sit and wait’ for advice?
It may sound strange at a time when the European telematics industry needs to work harder to narrow the lead of consumer electronics and match technological advances in the United States and Asia.
But perhaps not so strange considering the number of unresolved issues plaguing the various initiatives, from lack of solid technical specs for eCall-enabled modems to continuing uncertainty over launch dates of the various projects.
“I would say maybe [sitting and waiting] is a little exaggerated, but if you want to put it in a few words, it might summarize the situation,” says Christoph Ludewig, marketing and communications managerfor FleetBoard, Daimler’s fleet management solution. “We are monitoringthe developments and looking for the right time to become active.”(For more on fleets, see Industry insight: Fleet telematics.)
eCall, EETS and ITP
eCall may be the best-known EU project designed to bring the region’s automotive and transportation industries into the information age. It also affects the largest number of vehicles. But there are at least two other projects of significance. (For more on eCall and fleets, see The impact of eCall on fleet telematics.)
There is the European Electronic Toll Service (EETS), which aims to eliminate the hassle of international trucking companies having to acquire a separate on-board unit for each country by building a Europe-wide system that would guarantee a single provider, a single interoperable box, a single contract, a single administration fee and a single bill for all 27 member states.
And then there is Intelligent Truck Parking (ITP), a program for an EU-wide online information system that would make it possible to search for and book available parking spaces. The EU is also working on providing real-time traffic information free of charge to users.
Taken together, these measures promise to save lives, reduce road congestion, reinvigorate the European telematics industry and bring the concept of the connected car to the mass market. “To me, it’s like a big wave and everybody is going to be lifted by this wave,“ says Frederic Bruneteau, managing director of Ptolemus Consulting Group. (For more on connected cars, see Industry insight: The connected car.)
Changing technical specifications
But this wave hardly guarantees smooth sailing, as the projects appear poorly coordinated with each other and their technical specifications continue to change.
Take eCall. On paper, the project looks straightforward enough. From 2015, all new passenger cars and light commercial vehicles sold within the EU will need to be fitted with an in-band modem capable of automatically dialing the nearest emergency response center in case of an accident.
At Telematics Munich 2012, Pierpaolo Tona, chief project officer, European Commission, and Jerome Paris, dissemination manager, European Emergency Number Association, assured the roughly 700 attendees that eCall was on track and that the European Commission was monitoring the situation closely in case further legislative action was needed to move things along.
Fifteen member states and three associated countries have been involved in pilots to test and pre-deploy the technology, which is expected to not only save some 2,000 lives annually by reducing response time of rescue services by as much as 60 percent but also accelerate deployment of additional telematics services in Europe.
But recent results of a pilot in the Netherlands under the Harmonized eCall European Pilot (HeERO) initiative are far from reassuring.
In September, the Dutch police fitted four prototypes of eCall-enabled modems into a ski box atop a test car and drove repeatedly along a set route in the Rotterdam area, triggering eCalls in all manner of places—downtown intersections, tunnels, near high-voltage wires.
What they found was that the best success rate as measured by the flawless delivery of what is called the minimum data set—which carries the vehicle’s locations, direction, color or type of fuel—wasonly 80%. One of the modems only achieved a 50% success rate. And transfers of additional information concerning whether and what kind of hazardous goods were onboard fared even poorer.
“They were supposed to be up to standards, but now we see that the standards set by Europe are not as strict as they need to be,”says Thom Verlinden, project manager HeERO NL 112, Netherlands Police Agency. “Different modems which are [supposed to be] up to the standards still behave differently.”
Verlinden concedes that the test results could have been better had the police teamed up with modem providers and telcos. They would have at least been able to trouble-shoot on the spot. But that still doesn’t explain the wide spread of test results on modems that were all supposed to be eCall-ready.
According to Verlinden,a centralized certification process is therefore called for. “We don’t want to have to test every possible modem that comes to market,”he says. Meanwhile, debate continues to rage over the 2G mobile technology mandated for eCall and also about who should receive the emergency calls.
Well-intentioned but ill-conceived
Roger Lanctot, associate director, automotive multimedia and communications service, Strategy Analytics, calls eCall “a well-intentioned but ill-conceived approach to reducing highway fatalities”at a time when nearly everydriver on the road has a handheld telematics device, such as a smartphone.
“Accidents that go unreported—i.e., that occur in remote areas—likely occur where even embedded systems will not obtain a signal,” he says. But there is a bigger problem. The in-band data-over-voice modem technology mandated by eCall is old and rapidly being replaced by voice over data, or VoIP.
Verlinden agrees, equating the eCall technology to a “fax-telephone.”What’s more, the eCall legislation defines no upgrade path to LTE, which handles all communications through data channels. “The EU is mandating a module based on dated technology that is outmoded even before it goes into the car,”Lanctot says.
Who you gonna call?
Another source of contention is where eCalls are to be directed. Do they go directly to public safety answering points (PSAP), which already handle 112 calls from mobile phone users? This solution appears to be favored by many member states. Or are they handled by OEMs and their private call centers? Or is there a mixture of both?
If they go directly to PSAP, “what about insurance companies, OEMs, dealers?”Lanctot asks. “How will notification of these organizations take place? What if the driver has an existing towing contract with an automobile association?”
According to Lanctot, the best solution is an OEM-operated system with a call center, as it can not only screen the calls for false alarms before they are forwarded to the nearest PSAP but also provide complementary services, such as towing, replacement vehicle, insurance or notification of next of kin.
Verlinden agrees. Using OEM-operated call centers would not only free up carmakers to use the latest in connective technology but also save the already busy PSAPs the nightmare of having to sort through the multitude of false alarms eCall is expected to bring. According to Verlinden, 80% of eCalls Peugeot gets are, in fact, break-down calls.
Next week: The impact of eCall, EETS and ITP on fleet telematics, part II
Jan Stojaspal is a regular contributor to TU.
For more on fleets, see Industry insight: Fleet telematics.
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