The power shift

Vodafone’s Head of Automotive Gion Baker sits down with Alex Kreetzer to discuss how essential software providers have become to the automotive industry.

Connected, autonomous, shared and electric are not exactly new terms in the automotive industry, but they are becoming formulated into something revolutionary. For example, connected car technology has been around since the 1990s, with very minor electrical additions within the vehicle, before experiencing acceleration in the early 2000s. However, in recent years, this has blown up into the reality of a connected haven that has changed the way we see the modern-day car. In the near future, up to 85% of all new cars will be, by definition, connected. This shift has opened up opportunities for software providers which are becoming more and more important to transportation, able to specialise in complex systems that provide drivers with new, exciting features. Once pushed to the side by automakers, these companies now lead the connected push and are in incredible demand from OEMs which do not necessarily have the skills or resources to develop these innovations by themselves.

Vodafone is one tech powerhouse that is seeing great potential in the newly transformed automotive industry, with the company able to flex its muscles thanks to its software background and has already secured business with almost every automaker today - more than 40 million cars on the road connected have some component or technology from Vodafone. The company specialises in machine-to-machine data, able to build smart infrastructure that allows different verticals to connect and engage with, such as software optimisation or connected customer experiences. Gion Baker, who heads Vodafone’s automotive division, tells me that the company, formerly known as Cobra, identified the shift into a connected and mobility-driven industry, which led to significant investments in the area. “The automotive industry was one of the early adopters to understand that there is a strong value connecting cars to serve different resources such as infotainment and security services,” he explains. “Now, through the Internet of Things, the industry requires the integration of technology to increase performance, improve accessibility and grow consumer engagement.” From its investment 2014, Vodafone Automotive now provides an end-to-end solution to the industry, producing hardware, connectivity and security services.

Securing a connected haven

Vodafone Automotive has a clear goal of tackling all facets of future mobility, as the vehicle becomes further connected to the world around it. Ironically, due to the evolution of the mobile phone on wheels, Vodafone's background has become essential to this development, which many automakers have identified during this rapid overhaul. Gone are the days of vehicles created with as much horsepower as possible or best cornering response time but, instead, usability and entertainment reign supreme for consumers wanting to stay connected in transit. What this does for a technology giant like Vodafone, is place it in a position that automakers are not used to, which pulls the market away from traditional processes and plays into the hand of software specialists which are more capable in the field and have the key to unlocking the connected haven we all dream of.

Vodafone Automotive has a clear goal of tackling all facets of future mobility, as the vehicle becomes further connected to the world around it. Ironically, due to the evolution of the mobile phone on wheels, Vodafone's background has become essential to this development, which many automakers have identified during this rapid overhaul. Gone are the days of vehicles created with as much horsepower as possible or best cornering response time but, instead, usability and entertainment reign supreme for consumers wanting to stay connected in transit. What this does for a technology giant like Vodafone, is place it in a position that automakers are not used to, which pulls the market away from traditional processes and plays into the hand of software specialists which are more capable in the field and have the key to unlocking the connected haven we all dream of.  

"How we work together depends on the stage of where the vehicle maker is with its strategy," says Baker. "We have cases where the customer wants an entire end-to-end solution, such as with Porsche, and others where customers already have a bit of infrastructure in place but want certain systems implemented by Vodafone that fit the particular strategy.” Vodafone Automotive also has customer groups, where automakers can buy parts, acquire particular services and integrate them into third-party hardware. Once again, this shows how much the industry is changing, with different methods of introducing connectivity into each vehicle, either through one holistic solution or a range of third-party platforms to fill in any gaps. This is great for automakers, as they have the flexibility to decide what level of connectivity they want and where they want to get it from, creating a completely new connected supply chain for the automotive industry. 

Partnerships to overcome product life cycles

When it comes to the partnerships themselves, Baker explains that it usually comes down to when the base design architecture of the car is finished and the carmaker moves into the sourcing process. "During the supplier relationship build up, you develop and create together, which is how the automotive industry got so big in the first place," he says. "We are seeing more and more communication, co-creation, and collaboration." This kind of mindset has helped create groups like the 5G Automotive Association, which further drives home the fact that no industry can make this kind of innovation happen alone. You need the suppliers, manufacturers and technology companies to come together and realise this vision. "Of course, everyone is driving in this direction for their own benefit, but this clearly shows that the more things are interconnected the more you are forced into a collaboration,” Baker further stresses.  

This is especially true when it comes to product life cycles. The typical cycle of technology is extremely shorter than that of the automotive industry, so there has to be a method where both industries can come together and find a solution. Software updates can improve the vehicle and keep it up to date with the latest connected features, which is the common route at present. This is a necessity, as consumers cannot change their cars every few years, which will evolve the vehicle into a living, breathing entity. In addition, this will also help monitor and secure connected features from cyber attacks and glitches. “The first step for us is to have these cars securely connected. The second part is creating a strong shift in the architecture of our customers’ vehicles which is, by design, meant to be protected and remain constantly connected,” Baker adds. “Therefore, over-the-air updates, online configuration and personalisation are all elements that you will see very shortly on the road.” In short, it is all about finding different ways to make the vehicle more connected and protected, through creating new networks and infrastructure to support this shift.  

So when will this ‘connected haven’ exist? Well, Baker believes that this kind of connectivity will become a reality around 2020. “If you are already observing the industry, you can see parts of this already, but it will soon reach the mainstream and experience strong acceleration as more intelligent services are introduced, along with a higher level of adoption and a sufficient infrastructure surrounding it.” We are seeing a completely revamped industry, which has become forward-thinking and is changing faster than ever, although the adoption rate is still trailing behind. Once we reach the mass market, we will see an explosion of connected and future mobility services that will revolutionise transportation forever.  

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