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