From the CEO’s Desk | Connecting People in Connected Cars

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At the Detroit Audio Show taking place this week, car lovers will be coming out in droves to check out the latest and greatest in automotive design and innovation. At the same time, automotive and technology industry observers will be keeping an eye out for some exciting advancements that may not be quite so obvious to the untrained eye – in particular, the connected car.

Why is the connected car so important? Well, we’re all pretty familiar with services like OnStar that have been using satellite to open up the lines of communication between you, your car and your support folks. Services like this can let you know when your car is due for maintenance or repairs, remotely unlock the car on your behalf, send addresses to your GPS, and more. But that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

As technology gets better – as it always does – cars will go way beyond a talking dashboard to figuring out how they can use apps to control devices for a more integrated experience inside their car. We’re already much closer to this reality. As usual, auto and device manufacturers all have different ways of doing things so standards remain elusive right now.

But without question, change is on the horizon. For example, some big name manufacturers, along with Google and Apple, are strategizing about new and embedded technologies in cars to drive connectivity. Some analysts even believe that Google may be the only player that can unify the “infotainment system” with Android, even though – despite much talk at CES – we have not as yet seen any examples of the Android dashboard.

Connecting people in connected cars? While the driver’s need for connectivity to the car has been addressed, the industry is now turning its attention to delivering high-speed connectivity to other occupants in a vehicle. Between standards and technical complexities, there is a lot involved and a number of barriers that must be overcome.

Providing coverage to a moving vehicle has always been difficult for carriers (it is still impossible to make a call on the drive from San Francisco to San Jose in Silicon Valley without at least five dropped calls). But it is going to get much worse.

With all the government focus on green footprints, a major concern for manufacturers is better control over the thermal condition of a car cabin. Since a lot of energy is lost through windows, metallized windows are playing a part to address this. To put it simply, less energy loss means less air conditioning and heating requirements.

But this creates a real challenge on the communications front. Metallized windows interfere with cellular communications. We already know this happens in buildings that use reflective or tinted glass. These windows will reduce the signal so much that your cellphone won’t work the way you’re used to.

Without giving away any trade secrets, this is something we’re working on because it’s a problem that cries out for a smart signal booster solution. With small modifications, our intelligent Cel-Fi baseband processor could play a key role in addressing the issue. Shrinking a booster down to size to work in a car will take some R&D work and some strategic partnerships along the way, but let’s just say for now that the wheels are in motion.

More on this topic later…

What do you want from a connected car? And how soon do you think the industry will get it together to make it happen?

By Werner Sievers, CEO

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