30 Jan 19

(Mis)understanding telematics

When the French government in the late 70s deep-dived into the “computerisation” of society, they already considered wireless transfer of informatique via télécommunications. The concept of “telematics” was born.

What followed is driven by the evolution of technology: the first GPS satellites were put in orbit in 1978, the first in-car sat nav system was presented in 1985, GPS became an international utility (and therefore universally accessible) in 1996.

GPS: the cornerstone 

Any telematics system operates using roughly the same architecture: the unit in the vehicle sends out a signal that is picked up by 3 satellites at least. The vehicle GPS receives a ping back from the satellites and will remember the exact time required for the signal to return. It calculates its exact location by comparing the 3 results. If the vehicle GPS repeats this process every second, not only location is detected, but also movement – and therefore speed.

The combination of speed and movement can be integrated into a digital map, which is what we seen on the in-car sat nav. Telematics make these data available to the user by transmitting longitudes and latitudes over a 2G/3G network to a database. This is where the job of a telematics supplier really starts.

Asset management

The supportive technology has evolved dramatically; mobile networks operate at much higher speed (from 1G to 4G) and over 30 satellites send/receive data. The telematics business model has also evolved from asset tracking to smarter solutions.

Telematics became popular first in logistics and insurance; goods needed to be tracked and stolen assets retrieved. Israel and South-Africa were the 2 pioneer countries and are still playing a key role today. As technology became widely available and hardware cheaper, many Chinese and Indian suppliers entered the telematics ecosystem. 

Cheap hardware and affordable software disrupted the price setting of telematics suppliers; plug & play vehicle devices can now be ordered for less than 10 dollars and data platforms are available off the shelf. Basically, anyone can become a telematics supplier today. 

Getting smart

However, the value add of telematics nowadays comes no longer from the raw data. If processed correctly, telematics can impact the overall efficiency and safety, not only of the asset, but of the entire company. 

Modern telematics take the shape of behavioural tools, fleet management tools, logistics tools or a combination of these. They go beyond single source (geographical data of the vehicle), but make connections between the asset, its user and the “grid” (city, traffic, other vehicles). These links add value to the platforms that process the source data.

In the (very) near future, technology will be pushing telematics to the next step. The main drivers for this evolution are 5G (high speed connectivity) and the increasing number of sensors installed on vehicles.

Rather than being an aftersales solution, the connection between car and environment will come from the factory. This does not mean that the telematics industry will become redundant: the data still need to be processed and translated into actionable items for the Fleet Managers. 

Dos and don’ts

A first tip is to stop thinking about telematics as a geolocator; as demonstrated, its value is in the data processing. Next, define what you want to achieve with telematics and how it can contribute to your fleet; this can be (fuel) savings, defining the best routes for your sales people, delivering goods in the most cost-efficient way… 

Finally, select vendors who understand what’s happening in the automotive industry and have the capacity to absorb the massive amount of data that will be coming our way in a couple of years.

Authored by: Yves Helven