Mobilize 2010: Ford Embraces the Cell Phone


There’s no question that the connected car — adding broadband connectivity and applications to vehicles — will be a massive market opportunity. But there are two diverging scenarios for the connected car ecosystem, one is dominated by embedded computing in the vehicle, the other is led by cell phones. At GigaOM’s Mobilize conference on Thursday, automaker Ford said it’s solidly coming down on the side of the cell phone.

“We’ve put all of our chips on the non-embedded strategy,” said Ford’s Doug VanDagens, Director, Connected Services. “The computing power is in the device and in the cloud, we’re not putting computing power in the vehicle,” said VanDagens. Designing hardware for the 10 to 15 year life of the vehicle would just be too hard, compared to the couple year life span of cell phones and applications.

Ford has partnered with Microsoft (s MSFT) on its Sync broadband software platform, and already offers 911 assist, traffic information and navigation services. VanDagens says Ford works with “virtually everybody,” from the wireless companies, to content partners, and even Apple (s APPL).

How will all of these cars get connected? According to Steve West, Vice President of Emerging Technology and Media, for Alcatel-Lucent, 4G is the perfect network to handle the tall order of connecting hundreds of millions of cars. 4G is designed for data, while 3G is still voice centric but with data included, said West. 4G will fundamentally transform the auto industry and the driving experience, from enabling wireless-based behavioral insurance rates to in-car infotainment, said West.



I think it’s a smart play on Ford’s part not to embed the mobile broadband hardware into the car. Until recently I had a 10 year old BMW. Great car still looked sleek after 10 years but the stereo was like from the stone age. No CD player. No MP3 player. It sucked. I had a newer stereo installed but the installer couldn’t find one that fit exactly into the stereo compartment inside the car. He made it fit but the exterior lid would not close over the compartment. Broadband technology changes rapidly. The standard car loan is 5 years. If the owner keeps the car for 5 years, either the broadband hardware will be broken by then or woefully obsolete. Again, smart move by Ford.

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