Vodafone Germany said its mobile network is providing the connectivity for the electric scooters offered by the Berlin-based start-up Unu. Users can use Unu’s mobile app to share the scooters, without the need for keys or any other external access systems. The app enables also users to check where the e-scooter is located, who has used it recently and how many kilometers it will last until the next charging station.
The scooters are equipped with a SIM card that enables communication through the IoT network. For example, if someone tries to steal the scooter, the user immediately receives a message on their mobile phone. The user can also see if the location of the scooter changes.
The e-scooter can be purchased at a starting price of €2,799.00 (US $3,124.24). It will be delivered to the first customers in September. The costs of networking are included in the purchase price. The scooter comes with two batteries that can last for more than 100 km and has a top speed of 45 km per hour. It costs around 80 cents to cover a distance of 100 km.
This partnership between Vodafone Germany and e-scooter manufacturer Unu is an example of how pervasive and diverse the Internet of Things is becoming, and what mobile operators can do to get involved more fully and extract various benefits.
Connected vehicles represent, of course, one of the most important growth areas for IoT and will become critically important in the near future, by all indications. Connected scooters and e-bikes are a small part of that and, as niche products, do not promise to be a major contributor in terms of revenue, now or in the future. However, they afford mobile operators an opportunity to flex their IoT muscles in the vehicular sector, as well as being a way for MNOs to increase their relevance and strength in the consumer marketplace, at low cost and commitment.
For Vodafone, the Unu deal is an exclusive in that the e-scooters will not run on the signals of any other operators in Germany. This makes the scooters effectively a rolling advertisement for Vodafone’s network. Scooter users who are impressed not only with the service itself but with the idea that Vodafone is taking part in such a cutting-edge consumer-oriented initiative may well be encouraged to switch over to Vodafone’s network for their mobile phone service, if they are not currently customers. And they may tell their friends and associates about it, as well.
In general, in today’s climate of diminishing returns from traditional mobile services, many if not all operators are looking to find areas into which they can expand, in order to derive more revenue and also to remain relevant in terms of brand image. A well-meaning, helpful service such as publicly available scooters is an excellent area of this type. The features of the Unu scooter are well-thought-out and use mobile network technology intelligently to deliver features that are useful and could be obtained in no other way—seamless payment, location services, and theft prevention. The scooter could be purchased by individuals for their own use, as well as by municipalities or organizations of various kinds. E-scooters are a technology that is perceived as public-spirited because they reduce the carbon footprint by reducing the need to use cars in dense urban areas.
It is noteworthy that the cost of network services has been included in the purchase price of the scooter. That means the operator is being paid up front for the connectivity it will provide, which is always a plus. Of course, if usage on the network surpasses expectations, further arrangements may need to be made. And in any case, after some initial period, the operator may well decide to charge for the service on a per-data-usage basis.