Integrator to Innovator – WirelessCar’s journey from telematics service provider to connected vehicle services company

May 30th, 2023

Next year will mark WirelessCar’s 25th anniversary. It has, to say the least, been a truly eventful quarter-century, where WirelessCar has gone from being a telematics service provider in the late 1990’s to becoming a global connected vehicle services company. What has that progress – from integrator to innovator – meant for us as well as our customers? Here are some of the defining developments of our journey so far, and how they have contributed to staking out the road ahead.

The birth of automotive telematics

Automotive telematics emerged in the mid-nineties, as GPS location data, rudimentary vehicle data, and cellular telecommunications could all be merged for the first time. These telematics services were very basic emergency services; essentially the first versions of automatic crash notification and breakdown roadside assistance. What was transmitted was not even connected car data, but rather tone pulses that were sent via an in-band modem and ultimately equated to text.

WirelessCar emerged in this technological environment, which, while primitive, was full of enthusiasm and innovative zeal. When WirelessCar built the first telematics services for Volvo Cars around the year 2000, they became the third brand in the world to offer these kinds of services, and the first outside North America. Automotive telematics service development based on OEM-specific requirements was now a real thing, but also just the start of a much more elaborate and complex digital transformation.

As automotive telematics matures, system integration grows in scope and complexity

In the 2000s, we started to see telematics mature, and GSM and embedded cellular devices get built into cars. 2G GSM allowed for some data to be sent, but across shaky, unsecured internet connections. For a telematics service provider like WirelessCar, it was all still very much about integration: connecting the voice and data from the phone and the car, connecting that to the OEM’s back end in a comprehensive and useful way, sharing the right data with a call center when needed, and so on.

As a telematics service provider and integrator, we needed to have physical on-prem data centers, running 24-7, 365 days a year. At the time, OEMs simply did not have the IT aptitude or organization to run that kind of operation. Also, we contracted telecommunications companies to have physical lines terminated from the cellular network provider into our on-prem data center, and then from our on-prem data center out to a call center.

Complex integration for sure, but still far from modern connected car services, and the creativity and customer experience considerations they require. But then, a revolutionary device came around and changed the world as we knew it.

smartphone app UI for remote car control

A new digital landscape, and the rise of customer-oriented connected car services

The launch of the smartphone around 2007-2008 largely coincided with the evolution from 2G to 3G. A wider, fairly reliable data channel began to open up, allowing for greater data quantities to be sent, and at a cheaper rate than before. At the end of the decade, WirelessCar debuted the My Vehicle Online concept, showing how more customer-oriented features and services could be implemented and packaged to appeal to customers in a single, unified smartphone application. A brand new idea at the time, and an important step on our journey to becoming a connected vehicle services company.

Security services such as stolen vehicle tracking and immobilization had recently been added to our product portfolio. Still, these services were more like insurance policies – great to have but rarely utilized – rather than the kind of connected car services that users would want and need to use all the time. What would actually improve drivers’ daily lives? How could we go from being a telematics service provider to become a developer of customer-focused connected car services?

At the outset, we made services that enabled users to warm up their car or cool it down, send remote locks and unlocks, and check things like fuel level, battery voltage, and tire pressure. Basic by today’s standards, certainly, but a significant shift in what digital products and solutions could (and should) be like for 21st century drivers.

Connected car service innovation starts to take off – along with the OEMs’ digital business opportunities

By the 2010’s, connected car services were no longer just a premium feature, available only in Western markets. OEMs were becoming increasingly interested in customer-focused digital services, and the data and subsequent revenue or savings they could generate. They also realized that connected car data could be used for the engineering and design of new generations of cars, and to inform drivers and fleet managers of maintenance needs as well.

Moreover, there was a realization that thanks to connectivity, OEMs could maintain a relationship with car owners well after the point of sale (which, historically, had proven difficult). The new technology meant that the brand loyalty of not just car owners, but leasers, renters, even ride-hailing customers, could be encouraged and enhanced over time, through digital services.

As the technological shift accelerated, we started getting rid of landlines and older ways of integration. Instead, virtual connections could easily and securely be set up and maintained through the cloud as we shifted from on-prem data centers to leading partners like AWS. Establishing secure communication lines became easier, cheaper, and more dynamic than ever before.

A happy woman driving a car

WirelessCar’s background as a telematics service provider, and our early venture into the increasingly digital automotive landscape, meant that we could quickly transform our knowledge into innovative solutions. One key aspect of this was that we quickly began to understand market regulatory requirements and their implications. That made it possible for us to help multiple OEMs launch their connected car services in Asia (China in particular) already back in 2014-2015. But it also made us better prepared for the regulatory changes to come, such as the European Union’s GDPR and California’s CCPA as well as ever-stricter automotive cybersecurity legislation.

Becoming a connected vehicle services company, and what that means for WirelessCar’s customers

Connected car service development is not only about coming up with new digital services, and improving them over time. More than ever before, it is crucial to have an all-encompassing, global perspective. How can an OEM not just meet customers’ expectations, but shape them and take an innovative, industry-leading role? What can OEMs do to offer connected car services that remain excellent and popular throughout the vehicle’s lifecycle? How to best handle automotive cybersecurity in a changing world, and national as well as international privacy legislation?

Vehicle electrification and new technology such as AAOS present an enormous innovation potential, in terms of everything from smart EV routing and easier EV battery charging to new in-vehicle apps and an improved user experience. Integration is still a central part of it all, as it always was, but our emphasis needs to be on seizing the emerging technology opportunities and making the most of them as soon as we can – together with the OEMs.

Today, WirelessCar has moved from mere systems integration to ever-expanding innovation – developing and delivering a variety of off-the-shelf products and solutions that bring direct value to OEMs and their customers. We have adopted a modular approach, where we can offer complete packages or specific services, depending on the OEM’s needs. This also contributes to our ability to facilitate OEMs’ changing business models (traditional ownership vs. owner sharing vs. shared mobility; OEM direct sales to consumers), while helping reduce recall/warranty costs for OEMs and providing better customer experiences for drivers via Over the Air (OTA) updates.

We are now the global connected vehicle services company we have worked so hard to become. For OEMs, it means that WirelessCar is not just a reliable and creative business partner, but one that has actually “walked the walk”; consistently learning and improving since our founding. In many ways, we are only getting started.

If you have any questions about the contents of this article, you are welcome to contact me via the email address below. Feel free to read more about our work, our customers, and our partners, and make sure to also check out related articles on our Insights blog, on everything from automotive cybersecurity to call center services and autonomous mobility.

Jason Bartley
Director of North America