I saw that the GSMA are backing an initiative called eCall, which aims to put a device into cars that can automatically contact the emergency services in a crash, and tell them your position, direction and vehicle identification in order to speed-up emergency response. This is part of a wider umbrella of technologies now referred to as Machine-to-Machine (or M2M), that communicate some kind of telemetry automatically over a network, to a central computer.
In many developed countries, penetration of mobile phones is now exceeding 100%, not only because people often have more than one phone (for example work phone; personal phone), but because increasingly machines themselves have a phone number; a mobile terminal; a SIM identity. To give some examples: high-end cars have for some years used locator devices that can report the position of the vehicle (In some cases the insurers require such a device to be fitted because the risk of theft is high and the recovery percentage low). GSM modules are now cheap to buy (and thanks to the prepaid revolution, cheap to run), and can be used in applications like remote video surveillance, or simply triggering an alarm via SMS. The same modules can be used for other straightforward telemetry applications like regular weather reporting from inaccessible locations, or for measuring domestic gas or electricity usage without the need for a man-and-van operation reading meters. As the price of wireless modules continues to fall, we can expect a lot more of these M2M services to emerge. This is of course great news for telcos, who can expect ‘mobile phone’ penetration to reach 200% and beyond.
As for eCall, I think it’s an interesting application but devices reporting your location stir up a lot of strong emotions. Many people resent nearly any new safety measure applied to vehicles, so perhaps this is a “double whammy”. Automated speed cameras are still highly controversial. Truck drivers fought against the tacograph (that measures how long they drive in a day), dubbed “The Spy in the Cab”. In various countries there has been resistance to the compulsory wearing of seatbelts in cars (still very strong in the United States), and resistance to the prohibition of using hand-held phones while driving. The GSMA can expect vocal resistance to their project, even though its aims are laudable.