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Audi, Ford on fast-lane to in-car internet

MyFord: Ford's mobile app allows Focus EV owners to remotely lock or unlock the doors, use the car’s on-board GPS and pre-heat or cool the car.

Future of in-car internet as Audi, Ford team up with US telecom providers

24 Mar 2011

CARS that are in constant contact with the outside world via built-in wireless internet connections look set to become ever more prevalent with two major vehicle brands announcing tie-ins with telecommunications providers in the United States this week.

Audi and Ford have teamed up with T-Mobile and AT&T respectively to provide in-car mobile internet services on US-delivered vehicles, starting late this year.

Audi and T-Mobile say the A1, A6, A7, A8, Q7 and upcoming Q5 hybrid are all set to receive the Audi Connect service that brings Google navigation and search functions to the dashboard.

The Ford Focus Electric will also be internet-connected and supplied with a smart phone app that enables the owner to remotely lock or unlock the doors, use the car’s on-board GPS to help find their way to their vehicle and, depending on the weather, even pre-heat or cool the car so that it is comfortable from the start of a journey.

Other features of Ford’s system – dubbed MyFord Mobile – are EV-specific such as automatic alerts if the vehicle has unexpectedly stops charging, reaches a pre-set charge level or has received enough charge to reach a programmed destination.

It can also locate charging stations and plan a journey with multiple stops, calculating if there is enough battery charge for the full journey.

The Audi Connect technology debuted on the A8 last year and exists on the new A6 and A7 Sportback, but relies on local telecommunications and content providers to work, thus remaining absent on Australian-delivered vehicles.

 center imageFrom top: Audi A8 L with high-speed internet connectivity, elements of 'Audi Connect' system, using the A8's internal WiFi hotspot, Google Earth shown on 'Audi Connect'.

A similar scenario exists for the Ford system, and both companies will need to make agreements with local suppliers before rolling out the technology in Australia.

Audi Australia corporate communications executive Sean Poppitt told GoAuto that the company was working on bringing Audi Connect, and the advanced features that it enables, to the local market.

“We are in the queue to have it developed for our region and you can be assured we will enable it in Australian cars as soon as possible,” he said.

“It’s a case of the software being approved for each individual region. For example, the three-dimensional Google mapping will definitely come to Australia but we’re waiting on the Google software guys as well as satellite data guys here in the Asia-Pacific region as we simply don’t have the depth of data compared with Europe.

“That said it’s definitely something that will come, it’s just a matter of timing and when we can roll it out.”

As GoAuto has reported, Intelematics, the Australian company behind the SUNA traffic information service, is attempting to encourage more vehicle manufacturers to offer systems like Audi Connect and MyFord Mobile in Australia.

It aims to achieve this by working with manufacturers to make sure their hardware is compatible with local telecommunications infrastructure and providing a source of local content to make the technology usable and worthwhile in an Australian context.

In countries where it is available, Audi Connect provides services such as Google Earth on the in-dash display, and can download real-time news, weather and fuel price updates.

In the US, a T-Mobile SIM card inserted into a slot below the car’s CD player is included with the vehicle and activated for a six-month free trial, after which the customer pays for the service as with a conventional mobile data plan.

In a world-first for Audi, the technology can also be used to create an in-car wireless hot-spot, enabling up to eight laptops and mobile devices to simultaneously connect to the internet while on the move at speeds of up to 200km/h – handy for sending e-mails from the autobahn.

What’s more, the Ingolstadt-based luxury car company recently developed a prototype long-wheelbase version of the A8 with an ultra-fast internet connection.

According to Michael Dick, Audi board member for technical development, the technology – almost 14 times faster than is possible with the existing car and even exceeding that of many landline-based DSL broadband services – is being prepared for series production.

Audi claims the system is fast enough to stream high-definition video – which is extremely data-heavy – and simultaneously supply up to six computer or mobile devices with fast internet access without any of them sacrificing performance.

The fully-functioning prototype, produced by Audi in conjunction with telecommunications giant Alcatel-Lucent, uses a technology known as long-term evolution (LTE).

LTE is a fourth-generation mobile telecommunications technology that is likely to supersede the current ‘3G’ system used by the majority of internet-enabled mobile devices today and even the Global System for Mobile (GSM) standard that launched in the early 1990s and now underpins 80 per cent of the world’s digital mobile communications.

Naturally the fast LTE system relies on local adoption of the technology and network coverage for it to work. It is already being trialled in Australia, with Telstra last year demonstrating speeds of up to 149Mbps.

The performance is impressive compared with the 14.4Mbps possible on a standard 3G network and triple what is available on the company’s Next G network, which uses a combination of technologies to offer what is theoretically one of the world’s fastest mobile internet services.

Audi has further high-tech plans for the future, in which it expects cars to communicate with other vehicles and even the road infrastructure. In 2006, the company took part in an Ingoldstadt-based ‘Travolution’ project in which 150 traffic signals were equipped with transmitters so they could communicate with 15 test vehicles.

The system would recommend the speed for drivers to travel between traffic to synchronise with the sequence of green traffic lights to ‘ride the green wave’ and reduce journey times while saving fuel and CO2 emissions.

The technology was also capable of controlling the vehicle’s speed through the cruise control system and even intervening if the vehicle was about to run a red light.

Audi says vehicles with car-to-car communication could inform each other of traffic congestion and even issue warnings about the location of slippery roads, presumably detected through the traction and stability control systems.

The combination of communicative cars with existing technology such as adaptive cruise control, GPS navigation, lane assist and hazard detection as potentially leading to cars that can take over the driving in congested areas to relieve fatigued drivers, or enable them to carry out other tasks – although how this will be legislated for is anyone’s guess.

Audi AG chairman Rupert Stadler is keen to point out however, that the technology will “play a supporting role and never overrule the driver”.

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