French car maker Renault and France-based multinational mobile operator Orange are collaborating on a research project that is intended to test the automotive uses of 4G/LTE connectivity. The aim is for both teams to test the utility of high-speed mobile broadband for functionalities ranging from virtual office to cloud-based gaming to video conferencing, all to be accessed from a motor vehicle. The initial test is being conducted with Renault’s Next 2 prototype vehicle, based on the Renault Zoe, and is being presented on the Renault stand at the LeWeb ’13 Paris conference on 10–12 December.
Earlier this year Renault debuted R-Link, a tablet-based system for navigation, information and entertainment that comes built into the dashboards of a number of Renault models. Running a customized version of Android, it offers nearly 100 proprietary apps and responds to controls mounted on the steering wheel of the car and to voice commands. It also converts certain information into voice so it can be accessed while the car is in motion, without the driver taking his or her eyes off the road (for reasons of safety, some apps such as games can only be accessed when the vehicle is stationary). R-Link includes battery-use monitoring for electric cars and GPS navigation for all cars. The SIM M2M cards that enable the connectivity (via non-LTE networks so far) are provided by Orange.
In-vehicle entertainment systems are nothing new, but internet-based versions have been launched by several auto manufacturers over the last couple of years. Orange’s partnership with Renault shows how an MNO can get deeply involved in this emerging technology and stand to profit handsomely if it takes off. Whether or not it will do so remains to be seen; drivers and passengers may turn out to prefer using their existing smartphones or tablets on the road to spending extra money on a built-in system.
In any case, by aggressively moving ahead with this technology and expanding it to 4G—thus far on a test basis—Orange is maximizing its chances of success and possibly creating a major new revenue opportunity. Considering the huge amount of time that vast numbers of consumers worldwide spend in cars, the potential for in-vehicle data use is certainly substantial, and MNOs could conceivably derive a good deal of revenue from it. Orange has certainly been proactive in fostering its relationship with the automotive world—its very first deployment of 4G was at Renault’s R&D facilities, before the high-speed network was launched for businesses and consumers at large.