Pow­er­ful satel­lites and new an­ten­nas will soon con­nect cars to the Cloud

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - Brian Jakins

IMAG­INE being able to drive a car any­where on the African con­ti­nent and have a con­sis­tent, pow­er­ful broad­band sig­nal, strong enough for pas­sen­gers to stream high-def­i­ni­tion video while the driver gets up­dates on traf­fic and road con­di­tions kilo­me­tres down the high­way.

How about never again miss­ing a day of work to take your car to the man­u­fac­turer be­cause the soft­ware needs to be up­dated? Such sce­nar­ios are not as fan­tas­tic as you might think be­cause within just a few years, a new gen­er­a­tion of car an­ten­nas and high-through­put satel­lites will con­nect ve­hi­cles vir­tu­ally any­where to the global com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work.

Con­nect­ing cars and trucks to the in­ter­net is go­ing to for­ever change the way we think about per­sonal and com­mer­cial high­way trans­porta­tion. In­tel­li­gent trans­port sys­tems and self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles will more eas­ily and ef­fi­ciently move pas­sen­gers and prod­ucts.


At the same time, these con­nec­tions will en­hance both the driver and the pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence with in­for­ma­tion and en­ter­tain­ment only avail­able with high-speed satel­lite links. In ad­di­tion, by con­nect­ing cars to pow­er­ful satel­lites such as In­tel­sat’s EpicNG con­stel­la­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ers will be able to up­date ve­hi­cle soft­ware via satel­lite in­stead of re­quir­ing own­ers to visit a deal­er­ship where tech­ni­cians up­date ve­hi­cles one at a time.

The high-through­put satel­lites mak­ing this pos­si­ble have been launched in just the past year or so and in­clude In­tel­sat 35e, now un­der­go­ing test­ing fol­low­ing its July 5 launch.

The space­craft will pro­vide cov­er­age of the African con­ti­nent with pow­er­ful spot beams that can be picked up by the kinds of small an­ten­nas being de­vel­oped for cars and trucks.

The new gen­er­a­tion of an­ten­nas are small, flat pan­els de­vel­oped by In­tel­sat part­ner Kymeta and oth­ers. They have the same send-and-re­ceive ca­pa­bil­ity of the small dish an­tenna you might see atop a com­mer­cial build­ing.

The flat an­ten­nas will typ­i­cally be in­stalled be­tween the head­liner and the roof of a ve­hi­cle, in­vis­i­ble to the owner yet ca­pa­ble of send­ing and re­ceiv­ing in­for­ma­tion vir­tu­ally any­where out­side of a closed garage if the car’s ig­ni­tion switch is turned on. The an­ten­nas will take ad­van­tage of the power of a satel­lite to multi-cast in­for­ma­tion, rather than hav­ing sig­nals sent one at a time over ter­res­trial cel­lu­lar or wi-fi net­works.

Car man­u­fac­tur­ers and their sup­pli­ers are just be­gin­ning to ex­plore the range of con­tent that might be streamed to the ve­hi­cles through these new an­ten­nas.

The satel­lite an­tenna will en­able the rapid two-way com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween car and cloud server main­tained by the car’s man­u­fac­turer, al­low­ing the driver to pick from a menu of ser­vices.

One item on that menu might be al­low­ing the owner to al­ter the per­for­mance char­ac­ter­is­tics of a car by mod­i­fy­ing the soft­ware.

For ex­am­ple, per­haps a mo­torist would or­der up a “track per­for­mance” set­ting while driv­ing through a wind­ing moun­tain road on a week­end, but change back to “fuel econ­omy” mode when home.


Or maybe a pick-up truck owner would change the ve­hi­cle’s torque char­ac­ter­is­tics when tow­ing a trailer.

Other menu items could be a range of “in­fo­tain­ment” op­tions such as stream­ing mu­sic, video from providers such as Net­flix, and high­speed broad­band. Pas­sen­gers would have nu­mer­ous en­ter­tain­ment op­tions ei­ther on screens in­side the ve­hi­cle or on portable de­vices they brought along for the trip.

For car man­u­fac­tur­ers, up­dat­ing ve­hi­cle soft­ware via satel­lite will save mil­lions of dol­lars in ve­hi­cle re­calls be­cause they won’t have to fix the cars one at a time in deal­er­ships. Since the mid-1990s, com­puter-based elec­tronic con­trol units have re­placed many of the me­chan­i­cal and pneu­matic con­trol sys­tems in cars and trucks, re­sult­ing in mil­lions of lines of soft­ware code that need to be man­aged and up­dated.

Com­pa­nies es­ti­mate that be­tween 60 and 70 per­cent of ve­hi­cle re­calls are soft­ware is­sues. Elim­i­nat­ing the need to make these up­dates in­di­vid­u­ally in deal­er­ships will also save time for the own­ers.


One of the is­sues being worked out among man­u­fac­tur­ers and con­tent providers is who will con­trol the re­la­tion­ship with the car owner. For ex­am­ple, will Volk­swa­gen or Mercedes-Benz de­velop their own mu­sic stream­ing ser­vices or use a third-party ser­vice such as Google Play or Ap­ple Mu­sic?

The man­u­fac­tur­ers are also work­ing out what ser­vices might be pro­vided for free as a cour­tesy to car own­ers, and which ones might be of­fered with a one-time pay­ment or a monthly sub­scrip­tion fee.

While the high-through­put satel­lites that can sup­port these ser­vices have been launched, the an­ten­nas are just com­ing to mar­ket, so we won’t see some of these ser­vices un­til around the 2020 or 2021 model years.

But then the tech­nol­ogy will take off rapidly. Brian Jakins is the re­gional vice-pres­i­dent of sales in Africa, In­tel­sat Africa.

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