Why can’t I just buy a Vehicle Gateway?
When installing vehicle networks, cloud-based fleet management and back office solutions, you might feel that it’s a bit complicated. You might ask yourself why you just can’t buy a vehicle gateway, build an onboard network and not have to worry about all the rest. Do I really need all the software solutions and services? The answer is that there are some functionalities you really can’t live without, and that must be maintained for the duration of the system is in function.
- Remote Updates
- Automatic configuration
These services are the bare minimum for the system to work in a proper function. We will elaborate in this blog post, but if you don’t have these functionalities, the system won’t deliver what you expect.
In many cases you could also say that you aren’t really buying the hardware any more. You are buying software solutions and services with compliant hardware to support it. AND, the systems are continually updated, simply because it has interconnections to other systems that are also updated. It is also relatively complex to manage a network on a moving vehicle compared to a fixed office environment, with roaming and mobility aspects, which we also discussed in the previous article Maturing ITxPT marketplace.
There are three main features you also need from a vehicle telematics solution:
Monitoring – Surveillance and monitoring of communication and connection to Internet and the communication to and between connected devices, including up-time, fault codes, and surveillance. Furthermore – logging ability onboard and support for complex faults are necessary.
Remote updates – Software is more complex than ever, and it can be very important to be able to download bug-corrections, functionality updates and adaptations to attached systems etc.
Automatic configuration – Automatic configuration is a key feature for large fleets due to the complex nature of public transport vehicles where configurations can differ one vehicle to the other. It also reduces cost of maintenance since you can implement simple swap schemes instead of complex fault searches.
Information Broker – Distributes information between the onboard systems, which enhances their functionality. The Vehicle Gateway has functionalities and solutions for integration of the different onboard systems. Considerable resources and time have been spent to develop workarounds for legacy systems, to be able to connect them to the onboard network. Now there are solutions available for many new and legacy systems to be interconnected and to share information.
What is a Vehicle Gateway?
A Gateway is more than a router or a switch, although it often includes the functionalities of both. To simplify however, you could say that it is a wireless internet router with GPS/AVL (Automated Vehicle Location)-functionality. It also connects networks with each other and translates from one protocol to another, like for example from FMS via CAN to IP-protocol. The translation between protocols and enabling of communication between networks is technically the core of what a gateway functionality is.
Its most basic function is therefore that it supplies communication to the internet and back-office for onboard devices as well as connection between the different connected modules in the network. Normally this takes place through Ethernet and mobile connection using LTE/UMTS/GSM (2G/3G/4G).
A Gateway allows data to flow from one network to another. It manages the communication to and from the internal network and distributes necessary information such as [vehicle nr., Time, Position, etc] on the onboard network. The mobile data link provides a direct connection between the gateway module and the Internet or by using a private APN connected to the operator internal backoffice.
Why do you need a Vehicle Gateway?
The rising amount of functions available in today’s vehicles leads to both a more complex electronic architecture and to an increasing number of involved units. To ensure smooth, safe and correct communication between all units, it is necessary to have one master unit to coordinate the data transfer within the vehicle network system.
Since all units on the vehicle are connected to the Gateway (most of the time via standard network cables to its built in ethernet switch) and can share Internet connection and GPS functionality, the number of Internet connection or GPS units can be reduced from one for each on-board system to one Gateway per vehicle. It also enables surveillance and monitoring of all units through the same system, and only one connectivity unit to maintain instead of several per vehicle. Through the Gateway, all units on the vehicle get back office access. The Gateway also integrates itself towards the different vehicle systems, which means that the on-board network and the back office can be supplied with vehicle diagnostics, as well as connection to fuel economy products, comfort measurements and other functionality. The Gateway also provides buffering functionality to handle lost internet connection due to the mobility of the vehicle.
Gateways are the enablers of communication within a vehicle network system and thereby in that sense function as a data router as well as a central computing unit between vehicle network domains. A vehicle Gateway actually shares a lot of its characteristics with a vehicle computer. One difference might be in what extent the processing is done in the cloud or in the vehicle. Some systems do more of the computing in the vehicle and some more in the cloud, while a vehicle computer might do most of the processing onboard. The reason why one solution is prefered before another can for example depend on the cost of data traffic compared to the cost of onboard processing capacity. Gateway solutions are often a mix, where you do some processing in the Gateway to send pre-processed data to the cloud and back office, although sometimes a system of streaming raw data to the cloud is used.
Since the vehicle Gateway together with a cloud solution serves many of the same functions as a vehicle computer, and that it should act as information broker and enable monitoring and remote updates along with several other tasks, it is obvious that you need up-to-date software. It is a prerequisite for executing any of these vital tasks, and in the same way as you wouldn’t try to use a computer without adequate software, the same is true for a Gateway. The Gateway is automatically updated with the latest software via the cloud. Without continually updated software, the Gateway soon enough won’t be a Gateway at all, just a piece of uncontactable hardware.
Mobile Device Management is a well known term within the world of mobile phones and smart tablets. MDM functionality can include distribution of applications, data and configuration settings for all types of mobile devices, including mobile phones tablet computers etc. In vehicle IT, it corresponds to the management of Mobile devices, in this case it is the Android-based driver consoles for the drivers that hold a bundle of apps such as ecodriving or fault reporting. But in a wider term it also means the possibility to automatically update all units in a fleet with new software, which then applies to all units with some kind of updatable software.
The intent of MDM is to optimize the functionality and security of a mobile communications network while minimizing cost and downtime. Central remote management, using commands sent over the air, is a common solution. An administrator can use an administrative console to update or configure any one device, group or groups of devices. This provides scalability, which is particularly useful for a large fleet.
New market paradigm
As we have discussed more in-depth in the recent Busforce post, “Maturing ITxPT marketplace”, the payment model regarding onboard systems is constantly evolving. It started out back in the day with onboard hardware for ticketing and other analogue services, which then evolved to hardware with supporting software. Now we are in a paradigm where the rapid digital evolution has made most systems more software- than hardware reliant, which means that we are in a software-with-hardware-support situation. Most of the functionality today is software based. Therefore, you need to look at the software solutions, rather than the hardware systems to see if they are providing what you need.
The next step in development was described in the last Busforce post:
“Now we are starting to shift from software to service. Software today, is much more dynamic than before, which means that what you want is a service, or rather a selection of services which cater to your needs in an evolving IT ecosystem.”
“There is a global movement towards subscribing to solutions and paying for access instead of buying. This is more and more common in business-to-business agreements, but it isn’t uncommon for us as private citizens either, to have such relations with companies like Microsoft, Adobe, Netflix, HBO, Storytel and Spotify for example. Instead of owning software, films, books or music, we subscribe to access, which means we always have the latest version, and we don’t have to worry about when to upgrade or update. It is taken care of. We also avoid investing a lot of money in a service that we later might realize we don’t need, or that it has grown obsolete as a result of technical development or change in demand.”
Today, most functionality is software based, which means that even though the hardware is more tangible, software is often the most important part of the system. Therefore, the payment model in many cases pivots from hardware to software. Furthermore, because of the dynamic and fast-evolving nature of information technology with constant demand from customers for new functionality, better and upgraded systems as well as a continuous need for software update, a dynamic payment model, like subscribing to a service, can be more favorable than buying software. A subscription gives access to the latest software version included with updates and upgrades and the possibility to subscribe and unsubscribe to a slate of services without large investments, which otherwise might lock you into outdated solutions. And since we don’t want to forget the hardware completely, it is preferable to invest in flexible hardware to be able to connect extra sensors for future use.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is the author’s opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinion of any other person or organisation.