European service providers have given up waiting for the European Union’s eCall initiatives and mandates to deliver emergency roadside assistance across Europe. A growing number of private service providers are turning to existing technology in SMS-based alternatives to deliver eCall solutions without using the official eCall in-band modem technology. (They are, however, including the minimum data set portion of the standard.)
Volvo, Peugeot and BMW remain the only three OEMs with European eCall solutions implemented, using SMS technology. But third parties including insurance companies, automobile clubs and call center providers are stepping forward with solutions that will work with existing technologies. The latest launches include Allianz’s pay-as-you-drive offering, Allianz OrtungsServices GmbH’s LifeService offered in conjunction with AvD, TCS’s announcement of eCall service in Switzerland in connection with PSA, and ATX’s so-called “self-dispatch” solution.
These new systems are designed to provide eCall and bCall support throughout Europe and in the driver’s own language. But the language barrier is only one challenge to providing a pan-European eCall solution. The other challenge is the choice of connection technology. While the European Commission nominated in-band modem technology – sending data over the voice channel - as the standard for official eCall coverage, no mechanism was put in place for upgrading hundreds of public service answering points (PSAPs). The PSAPs must be equipped with the in-band modem technology to connect properly.
Qualcomm has stepped forward, as the winner of the in-band modem competition, to license its technology at no charge. But no action has been taken at the PSAP level, hence the emergence of private initiatives.
There is a bit of an irony in the focus on eCall. The volume of eCalls that are seen by the current providers number at most in the hundreds per year. This tiny number of incidents calls into question the value of the eCall mandate itself as a lifesaving technology, but this obscures the much more impressive number of roadside assistance calls, which number in the millions. (No one, including this analyst, is questioning the value of eCall services.)
The private service providers clearly recognize the value of the combination of these two services to their customers, hence the new offers. Lurking behind these initiatives is a battle for control of the automotive call center market in Europe. This multimillion Euro opportunity will grow in importance as more OEMs launch telematics services.
By some estimates, ARC Europe, European equivalent of the American Automobile Association, is the dominant provider of automotive call center support with more than a third of the market, followed by Mondial Assistance, Europe Assist and AXA. The Allianz PAYD offer is made in cooperation with Mondial, its wholly-owned subsidiary.
Allianz’s PAYD solution includes a module which provides a portfolio of services including eCall, bCall, stolen vehicle recovery, theft notification, and a hands-free Bluetooth interface. The range of solutions included with the device provide a more comprehensive offering reflecting the priorities of an automobile insurer including, most interestingly, a hands-free phone interface to reduce distracted driving.
From sister company Allianz OrtungsServices GmbH, comes the infrastructure for LifeService112, most recently added by Automobilclub von Deutschland (AvD). AvD, though older, is smaller than the widely known Allgemeine Deutsche Automobil-Club (ADAD), which is part of ARC Europe. With the new service, launched last week, AvD says it will be the first German automobile club to offer members GPS mobile phone localization for emergencies.
The new offer is made possible by the LifeService platform from Allianz. LifeService112 provides the technical platform for mobile phone localization for more than 90% of Germany’s public safety answering points. It is also compatible with both SMS and in-band modem technology.
Accident victims have previously been located via mobile phone cells with the accuracy depending on the number of radio masts. By contrast, GPS technology – independent from the network and available worldwide – can better pinpoint a victim’s location. Special software for the mobile telephone will make precise GPS tracking possible. Allianz OrtungsServices GmbH’s goal is to enable all European rescue coordination centers to access the LifeService112 system. In an emergency, the public safety answering point can locate every mobile phone by way of either radio cells or GPS. Allianz is seeking additional partnerships for the eCall/bCall service including, but not limited to, auto makers.
PSA has signed an agreement with Touring Club of Switzerland (TCS), announced at last week’s Geneva Motor Show to provide eCall and bCAll services for Peugeot and Citroen models sold in Switzerland beginning this month. In the event of an accident, an eCall SMS (with location data) is sent to TCS to process and contact the relevant PSAP.
The system is a two-button solution allowing the driver or passenger to activate an eCall or bCall voice connection manually or automatically anywhere in Europe. TCS worked with Alabus AG to implement the solution and the hardware came from Magneti Marelli. The TCS call center will be able to respond in the driver’s language.
ATX, which has lost its European telematics service relationship with BMW, is making what may be the most radical proposal of what it calls a self-dispatching approach to managing eCalls from vehicles. The company’s announcement says its system will work with SMS or in-band modem technology and will make use of multilingual text-to-speech technology and Internet resources all of which may help to define an entirely new approach to telematics and call center support in Europe.