Interview: Telefónica’s Pavan Mathew on “Connected Cars”

This week Pavan Mathew, Global Head of Automotive Telematics at Telefónica, privileged me with an exclusive interview about a report released by the company on how the “Car industry must remodel itself to exploit the connected future.”

As we move towards a fully digital lifestyle we expect devices to be connected; with not just access to the wider world via the internet and services that entails, but also seamlessly with one another.

Our smartphones rarely leave our sides; many of us get sent into panic if our data connection drops whilst we’re out – leaving us unconnected from emails, social networks, entertainment, and ultimately many of the things we care most about.

Wearable computing devices such as the Pebble smartwatch and Google Glass wish to offer convenience and productivity without looking at our phones. The next-generation of “connected cars” also wishes to do all of this and – hopefully – help to increase the safety of drivers as well.

The first question I wanted to ask Pavan was whether operators are willing, and if the infrastructure can support cars on networks currently; considering many users already have multiple devices.

He was quite certain they could, saying: “Most carriers have the bandwidth to do that, what the OEM’s are looking for is a real partnership in thought, and in delivering service.”

This seems to be the real focus point currently, how everyone involved can collaborate on a solution which works for all. For this reason I wanted to know if the industry had decided on the best method of monetising the provided services.

It was clear from the start I wasn’t the first to bring up this point: “If you go to any of the conferences, or where these businesses meet, that’s always the big question ‘what is the best business model?’”

Pavan speaks of the difficulty in a single-solution due to different usage scenarios, for example he says: “75% of the time it’s an individual driver who’s in the vehicle”

Going on to say: “The challenge is delivering the right services for an individual driver; then in certain use-cases with multiple occupants, can you provide good quality services there. I think you can do all the above.”

The next, most obvious question I could ask was whether advertising was a possible method of paying for the delivered services.

His reply was mixed: “I think there’s room for advertising, with that one you have to be guarded, you don’t want it to interfere with driving and what the OEM wants that experience to be.”

Recently Apple announced their move into vehicles with an “Eyes Free” system which hooks into a cars infotainment system and utilises Siri’s natural language for control.

I asked Pavan whether customers would prefer a familiar experience: “There are a segment of consumers that are like ‘Look, make it easy for me, don’t distract my driving. I just want to listen to my radio; I just need to pair my phone. The more you do it with physical controls, easier for me’”

He wanted to be clear that whilst these are potential solutions; they may not be for everyone: “Challenge the leaders with eyes-free, Siri, and voice activated services like natural-language in some cases. But don’t alienate a big segment of consumers who just want something simple, that works, and doesn’t cause too much disruption.”

Finding the right solution which provides the best experience for customers is paramount to manufacturers: “Any type of frustration will flux in quality scores such as on JPower, customer would say ‘I couldn’t figure out the infotainment in which case it can’t be a good product.’”

Whilst there are many cases where connected car technology helps improve the safety of the driver, I wanted to know this is being considered a priority before technology is implemented.

On this point Pavan says: “The basis of connected car was safety and security; I think if you really sum it up, it’s going to be ‘What is the right thing to do? How do we make the car safer and better?’”

He clarifies: “For example, in the U.S if you travel above 5mph, your navigation feature is disabled. You’ll still get your route but your interaction will be disabled to prevent distraction.”

Recently I’d written an article on new legislation which could mean ‘eCall’ technology, a device that will automatically alert emergency services of your situation and location in an accident, could potentially be mandatory in all new cars from 2015.

Whilst Pavan – and the majority of the industry – is keen supporters of the legislation, he makes a very poignant point: “As an industry, you want to do that before legislation makes you.”

What do you think about the future of connected cars, is it an exciting prospect?

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