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Security through Connectivity

by Roger Lanctot | Aug 12, 2015

According to Wikipedia, the debut album of the Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Are You Experienced” – is widely recognized as one of the greatest debut albums of all time.  Back in 1967 “it soon established a new direction in psychedelic and hard rock music.”

The album spent 33 weeks on the pop charts and gave the world “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” and “The Wind Cries Mary” among a few other enduring tunes. Car companies would like that same kind of appeal to be embodied by connected cars.  Just as Jimi asked us all provocatively on the album cover, “Are you experienced?” – so, today, will consumers be asking car companies, “Are you connected?”

(NB:  Strategy Analytics consumer research shows that TODAY consumers are NOT asking this question - but they will.)

While 2014 & 2015 will be remembered for vehicle recalls and car hacks, 2016 & 2017 will be remembered for the growing number of car companies deciding to build wireless modems into ALL of their cars.

General Motors was first to make the move, back in 2004. Nearly 10 years passed before Tesla and BMW followed suit in 2014.  Now Volvo, Mercedes Benz and Jaguar Land Rover have shifted into the connectivity lane with announcements of their plans to add embedded wireless modems in ALL of their cars. Combined, in 2016, these companies will manufacture a total of 15M cars, the majority of which will be connected.

It is hardly a coincidence that the top recommendation from security experts for car companies seeking to beat back the hacking hoe-down is over-the-air (OTA) software updates. Estimates vary regarding the percentage of vehicle recalls linked to software, but let’s go with the lowball – 50% - in order to conclude that software update capabilities will kill two birds with one application – the high cost of software-related recalls and the terror and embarrassment associated with security breaches.

But you can't update software without a connection - hence the moves by Volvo, JLR and Mercedes-Benz to join GM, Tesla and BMW.

Over the air software updates will also enable the enhancement of cars already on the road – a phenomenon widely demonstrated by Tesla. Features and functions can be added post sale with software updates.

But maybe most important is the ability of the wireless connection to enable the car company to be connected to the car and the customer not only in the event of an accident, but also in the event of a violation of the vehicle’s security and maybe to notify the driver when the brakes, exhaust, transmission, alternator, oil or whatever else might be in need of some preventative maintenance.

And with six car companies now committed to connecting ALL of their cars, maybe the wider industry will recognize the time has come to connect cars – and not just with smartphone interfaces. With the increasing complexity of cars, the need to update or patch millions of lines of software code has emerged as a major crisis.

The hacking of cars and the tsunami of software-related recalls has only served to put an exclamation point on the need to connect and enable updates. One commentator has gone so far to suggest that the process of software updates shifts the onus of vehicle protection to the customer – just as in the case of mobile devices and desktop computers. In other words, fail to update your vehicle at your own peril.

But something is missing from this newfound connectivity religion: always on connectivity.  Not even the European eCall mandate set to take hold in 2018 will remedy this problem.  Only BMW (10 years free in U.S. and China) and GM’s OnStar (five years free door unlock and remote start) have put together BOTH universal connectivity AND live modem functioning for an extended period of time.

It isn’t enough to stuff a wireless modem in a car at the factory.  That modem needs to be provisioned by a carrier and therefore live and functioning to provide the sought after security and software updating.

It’s about liability, warranty cost avoidance, security and long-term value preservation.  Let’s hope this latest round of car connectivity adoption doesn’t produce the equivalent of zombie cars with dead modems.

The wireless modem is our friend.  And, after all, don’t we all want to be connected?

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