Kyle Riordan | Research Analyst
June 30, 2014

Hit the Road with Telco APIs


The car has gone mobile. Well, alright, more mobile as telecommunications companies (telcos) like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are entering the space to help make the car smarter. The mobile car goes well beyond the seemingly mundane hands-free calling and texting. It now includes full diagnostic systems to keep drivers in tune with the internal happenings of their cars and infotainment systems linking popular social applications, music and video services. Furthermore, the GPS not only gets drivers to their destination, it also tells them where they might want to stop along the way, and—in the event of an emergency—has the ability to communicate with emergency services when the driver cannot.

2014’s CES saw a myriad of exciting new partnerships and updates to the mAuto industry. Audi even went so far as to take this marriage between cars and mobile literally, unveiling a 10.2 inch display Android tablet that has been specifically designed for in-car use. The display connects with the car directly over WiFi and allows for passengers to interact with the infotainment system. GM, not wanting to be left out in the rain, announced its newest partnership with AT&T to provide its 4G LTE bandwidth powering the Onstar HTML5-based platform “Connected”. 

With cars getting smarter it is only logical that automakers would look for ways to connect that intelligence to the outside world. Providing that linkage is an essential value the telecommunications companies can provide.

However, telcos are moving beyond just providing the wireless signal. AT&T for instance is providing its “Drive” platform, which gives automakers the ability to select from a number of capabilities such as voice enablement, firmware updates, diagnostic tools, and global billing to settle charges between the automaker service provider and user.

For telco APIs, the use cases are plentiful. Take for instance the appointment scheduling scenario offered by GM. The in-vehicle app allows the user to select a day and time period (AM or PM) when they would prefer the service to be scheduled. If a driver wants more flexibility, GM can offer SMS APIs to send a text message later in the day that reminds the driver to schedule an appointment. Now they can schedule the appointment at a specific hour, when it is convenient. 

Telcos could also allow app builders to leverage their billing APIs to settle in-app purchases for their vehicle specific apps (or the bill associated with the connectivity to the car). Now, this may not seem like a big value proposition, but with emerging platforms fragmented across different brands, having this function can help developers become early entrants and capture the attention of users as they navigate an otherwise sparse landscape of in-vehicle apps.

The tools telcos can provide could also have large implications for safety. For example, a connected car outfitted with the right sensors could count the number of people in the vehicle, contact emergency services in the case of a crash, and let them know where the accident happened and the number of people involved. Such an initiative is already being undertaken by companies like Rave Mobile Safety; however, to add telco specific value in this scenario, cars could determine the identity of the passengers by making a request to the telcos’ user identity APIs by pinging the devices inside the vehicle and matching them back to their owners. Now rescue workers arrive informed and more prepared as they know the identities of the people involved and—with linkage to medical systems—their medical histories and potential complications.

These innovative scenarios serve as an example of the opportunity possible with mobile cars. As telcos look more and more to offer these services, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that they have well-managed APIs. Just as in-vehicle displays require an intuitive interface, telcos need to provide an easy to understand portal, analytics to run diagnostics and check the health of their APIs, and access controls that ensure they are in the driver’s seat of the API program at all times.

Telcos are helping the automakers drive toward the future. The car is rapidly becoming a smart device and telcos are providing not just the connectivity, but also building blocks that generate innovation. The direction that innovation can take has as many possibilities as there are roads to drive. Everything from turning a car into an on-demand mobile cinema to creating a safer network of roads by leveraging aggregated crash location information. With so many avenues to take, telcos need to have full control over their API program and a clear vision of their roadmap. Plan the journey, then hop in and buckle up; the smart car is going to be a fun ride. 

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