How powerful satellites and new antennas will soon connect cars to the Cloud.

Imagine being able to drive a car anywhere on the African continent, all the while with a consistent powerful broadband signal, strong enough for passengers to stream high-definition video while the driver gets updates on traffic and road conditions miles down the highway.

How about never again missing a day of work to take your car to the manufacturer because the software needs to be updated?

Such scenarios are not as fantastical as you might think because, within just a few years, a new generation of car antennas and high-throughput satellites will connect vehicles virtually anywhere on earth to the global communications network.

Connecting cars and trucks to the Internet is going to forever change the way we think about personal and commercial highway transportation. Intelligent transport systems and self- driving vehicles will more easily and efficiently move passengers and products to their destinations. At the same time, these connections will enhance both thedriver and the passenger experience with information and entertainment only available with high-speed satellite links.

In addition, by connecting cars to powerful satellites such as Intelsat’s EpicNG constellation, manufacturers will be able to update vehicle software via satellite instead of requiring owners to visit a dealership where technicians update vehicles one at a time.

The high-throughput satellites making this possible have been launched in just the past year or so and include Intelsat 35e, now undergoing testing following its July 5 release. The spacecraft will provide coverage of the African continent, with powerful spot beams that can be picked up by the kinds of small antennas being developed for cars and trucks.

The new generation of antennas are small, flat panels developed by Intelsat partner Kymeta. They have the same capability of the small dish antenna you might see atop a commercial building, but without the bulk and weight. The flat antennas will typically be installed between the headliner and the roof of a vehicle, invisible to the owner yet capable of sending and receiving information virtually anywhere outside of a closed garage if the car’s ignition switch is turned on.

The antennas will take advantage of the unique ability of a satellite to multi- cast information, rather than having signals sent individually to each user over terrestrial cellular or Wi-Fi networks that could be congested or unavailable in certainlocations.

Car manufacturers and their suppliers are just beginning to explore the range of content that might be streamed to the vehicles through these new antennas. The satellite antenna will enable the rapid two- way communications between the car and the cloud server maintained by the car’s manufacturer, allowing the driver to pick from a menu of services. Simplifying access to these solutions will be subscription-based, such as the KĀLOTM global service, being implemented by Intelsat and Kymeta, to provide high-throughput internet access to Kymeta-enabled vehicles.

One item on that menu might be allowing the owner to alter the performance characteristics of a car by modifying the software. For example, perhaps a motorist would order up a “track performance” setting while driving through a winding mountain road on a weekend, but change back to “fuel economy” mode when back home commuting to work. Or maybe a pickup truck owner would change the vehicle’s torque characteristics when towing a trailer.

Other menu items could be a range of “infotainment” options such as streaming music, video from providers such as Netflix, and high-speed broadband. Passengers would have numerous entertainment options either on screens inside the vehicle or on portable devices they brought along for the trip.

For car manufacturers, updating vehicle software via satellite will save millions of dollars in vehicle recalls because they won’t have to fix the cars one at a time at dealerships. Since the mid-1990s, computer-based electronic control units have replaced many of the mechanical and pneumatic control systems in cars and trucks, resulting in millions of lines of software code that need to be managed and sometimes updated. Companies estimate that between 60 and 70 percent of vehicle recalls are the result of software issues. Eliminating the need to make these updates individually at dealerships will also save time for the owners.

One of the issues being worked out among manufacturers and content providers is who will control the relationship with the car owner. For example, will Volkswagen or Mercedes Benz develop their own music streaming services or use a third-party option such as Google Play or Apple Music? The manufacturers are also working out what services might be provided for free as a courtesy to car owners, and which ones might be offered with a one-time payment or a monthly subscription fee.

An important consideration for car manufacturers will be the security of the networks able to access the cars and make software changes. A motorist receiving notice that the brake system on his or her car is about to be updated will want to know that the change has come from the right source and has not been tampered with. Rather than work with hundreds of cellular providers around the world to manage automotive software, manufacturers will be attracted to the security and reliability of a single satellite network.

“Connecting cars and trucks to the Internet is going to forever change the way we think about personal and commercial highway transportation.”

While the high-throughput satellites that can support these services have been launched, the antennas are just coming to market, so we won’t see some of these services until around the 2020 or 2021 model years. But then the technology will take off rapidly. Some manufacturers, such as Mercedes, BMW and Volvo, are already taking advantage of some of the software update capabilities using Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Satellite connections will likely work to complement these services for some applications, but satellite will be the best type of connectivity for manufacturers to make mass updates to vehicles spread across wide geographic areas.

The benefits a connected car can provide to consumers seem to know no bounds, from eliminating time wasted in the auto repair shop waiting for a software update to downloading movies on-demand for your children to watch during a long road trip. Connected cars have already proven to help make our lives easier, efficient and a little more entertaining, and the reliability of a satellite network will help ensure that connectivity is always available.

Author: Brian Jakins, Regional Vice President of Sales in Africa, Intelsat Africa