eCall 'a game changer' if mobile operators back it fully, say Vodafone

Although there has been a reduction in road fatalities in Europe over the past decade, the figures still make for sombre reading. So the latest move by the European Commission to ensure that, by 2015, all new cars automatically dial the emergency services when involved in a serious accident must be warmly welcomed by us all.

Once widely deployed, eCall has the potential to save hundreds of lives in Europe every year. It is predicted to accelerate the arrival of emergency teams by 40% in urban areas and 50% in rural regions.

The eCall system automatically establishes a telephone link to the appropriate emergency call centre and sends details of the accident to the rescue services, including details such as the time of incident, the accurate position of the crashed vehicle and the direction of travel. It can also be activated manually, for example, by a witness to the incident.

Of course, the idea is not new. The EU had called for eCall to be rolled out voluntarily across Europe by 2009, but adoption was slow. Now this new recommendation, issued this month (September 2011) should kick start the take-up.

The recommendation also urges every EU member state to ensure that mobile operators treat calls from eCall devices like other emergency calls (that is give priority to them and not charge for them). It also asks them to ensure that their mobile network operators upgrade their infrastructure to support eCall by 2015.

Vodafone welcomes this legislation. From a humanitarian point of view – we believe that mobile operators should be among the drivers of the initiative.

We are more involved than most, providing the telecoms infrastructure and using our M2M expertise to work with device manufacturers in the telematics market, in addition to recognising that a dedicated eco-system of partners is key to optimising the technology. In this same spirit of collaboration we are providing access to our research and innovation centre in Dϋsseldorf for testing in a unique multi-vendor environment.

The proposition has overcome a range of challenges. For example, hardware components that are integrated into a car’s communications system need to withstand extreme humidity, vibration and temperature. Consequently, Vodafone is advocating use of the embedded SIM, a compact, soldered SIM that can stand up to these conditions and be mounted in the communication system as it is being manufactured. The inherent mobility of the installation also requires truly global network availability as the vehicle could well be travelling from country to country and network to network.

But as well as welcoming these recommendations from a philanthropic point of view, the M2M community should also be embracing them for the business potential they represent.

The development of eCall will form part of a broader, in-car communications system. This offers the potential for a range of added-value functions benefitting both the new car and after markets.

The connection will, for example, enable remote diagnostics, making it possible for a dealership to advise of an impending mechanical problem needing attention. Another additional service is the provision of enhanced automatic navigation aids. These can show – and update in real time – points of interest, such as hotels with rooms available or provide the ability to research and make restaurant reservations.

An in-car internet service is a further area rich with opportunity. Here M2M-based services could connect to other IT platforms, providing car owners with an integrated range of personalised radio and other entertainment applications.

The potential for creative M2M development is extensive. eCall represents M2M’s introduction into the mass automotive market, with significant benefits for the industry as a whole. Aside from the all-important safety benefits of the initiative, it should also be embraced for the business opportunities it brings in its wake.

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