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Will Latency Hold Back Satellite in Connected Car Market?

Over the past two SATELLITE shows, the connected car market has been cited many times as a potentially lucrative one for satellite companies. On the final day of SATELLITE 2018, a number of speakers got together to debate the future of this market. In the “IOT on the Road: Connected Consumer Vehicles, OTT, and the Self-Driving Car” panel, a number of speakers debated this market as well as where satellite fits in.

Greg Ewert, president of connected car and intelligent transport systems at Globalstar, is optimistic about the future of the market. “The amount of data coming off a vehicle is exponentially increasing on a daily basis. Is it going to be 5G, LTE, satellite. We need to think about what is required in the marketplace to make a connected car a success. There is the industrial side of the vehicle and the infotainment side of things. You have to draw that distinction. Infotainment is a different proposition,” he said. “There is no one technology that will provide resiliency and information coming off and on of cars.”

Jada Tapley, vice president of advanced engineering at Aptiv, a company that is really immersed in this market with a focus on self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles, joked that Aptiv sees itself as a “100 year old start-up.” At CES this year, Aptiv partnered with Lyft, and delivered more than 400 self-driving rides to consumers, an impressive achievement. Tapley said cars are now really complex pieces of technology. “The cars, the way they are made today, every one is a hybrid of technology, that uses different speeds of communication. It is the most complicated piece of technology you own, even a base car,” she said.

However, with cars starting to drive themselves, Tapley bought up the issue of latency and said this is a “huge” issue facing the satellite sector. “There are opportunities around automation to leverage satellites. However, latency is a huge issue for self-driving cars. A car with no human, we need to get information lightning fast. We cannot afford latency from a safety perspective,” she said. “Technology is meaningless without a use case.”

Like other speakers, Tapley spoke about separating the needs of customers on the entertainment side from the needs of operations and improving the efficiency of the vehicle. “OEMs need more information about the cars. If you think about a city, you can provide real-time traffic information. Cities can become a new customer for data. We have made acquisitions with companies in the cloud. We bought a company that specialized in data services, Over-The-Air (OTA) updates, etc,” she said. Tapley also spoke of new business models starting to emerge. She said that, in the next couple of years, ride sharing, ride fleets, and autonomous vehicles will become key trends and that different mindsets are starting to emerge in this space.

Roger Lanctot, associate director of the global automotive practic at, Strategy Analytics, also highlighted the safety issues. He said safety is significantly higher than infotainment as a priority for car manufacturers, and there is a need for car manufacturers to gather information for the car. He said BMW has been the leader in gathering data from vehicles.

However, with more communication needed with the vehicle, car manufacturers are looking to be at the forefront of communications solutions. “The car companies are looking to be at the forefront of the deployment of 5G technology. What you saw at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) is that they are looking for carrier-agnostic solutions. They are not in love with wireless carriers. They want different technology solutions. Satellite may have a single box solution (which could be of interest). There is an opportunity for a new relationship with car manufacturers and the satellite industry,” he said.

Lanctot, when analyzing the future for satellite in this sector, said that it is all about the satellite industry developing use cases for its technology that will appeal to car manufacturers. “OTA software updates [could definitely be of interest]. If you are a mapping company, keeping those up-to-date is key. There is a bit of a wildcard with positional accuracy. None of them [car manufacturers] are satisfied today with the current solutions,” he said.

It is still an area where car companies and satellite companies are trying to find the sweet spot. There is still very little evidence of car companies working with the satellite sector, despite this being a really talked about market. “The ideal automotive connection would have satellite back-up. So, you could definitely want a satellite connection if you are transporting goods across the country. The industry will start looking for satellite for ubiquitous connectivity,” he added.

Tom Freeman, senior vice president of land mobile at Kymeta, echoed these sentiments. Kymeta is working with the likes of Intelsat and Toyota to bring connectivity to this market. “We have shipped over 200 units this year in our first commercially available system. We believe the future is in a hybrid connectivity solution,” he said. “There are a few industries as secretive as the automotive industry. We can’t talk about what models we are going in with Toyota.” VS