Nils Klute on how Deutsche Telekom’s HotSpot Drive is delivering high-speed WiFi for BMW

The future undoubtedly belongs to the “Connected Car” – but make no mistake, these rolling super computers have already hit the streets. The market research firm Nielsen Insights found in 2014 that 63 per cent of new car shoppers were already looking for a vehicle that could connect to the Internet back – and that figure is on the rise. The statistic portal Statista reported in 2015 that two-thirds of German vehicle owners would even consider changing their preferred brand when buying a new car if it would improve their automotive connectivity.

Automakers are responding and bringing the Internet to your next car. By 2017, around 80 per cent of all new cars will be connected to the web, said Matthias Wissmann, president of the VDA German automobile industry association, at Berlin’s IFA consumer electronics trade show last year. Most consumers want car connectivity primarily for online entertainment and services that they’re used to having at home or work. It could be a family on holiday taking advantage of a variety of music and video streaming services or online games to make their trip more pleasant. Or a businessman, who holds a videoconference with his colleagues, checks his emails and exchanges large attachments during a driving break, while on his way to see a client.
On the road and online
Carmakers are looking for solutions offering comprehensive and reliable connectivity for their vehicles – regardless of which country they happen to be driving in at any given moment. So BMW partnered with Deutsche Telekom to develop “HotSpot Drive” – an international solution for automotive WiFi. HotSpot Drive turns BMWs into rolling, wireless access points. It can connect up to 10 WiFi devices to the Internet, even if they don’t have their own SIM cards. Users can surf across national borders throughout Europe and beyond. HotSpot Drive has been available in 10 European countries since the summer of 2016 (Germany, Britain, France, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden and Austria) and will come to six more countries next summer (Turkey, Russia, South Korea, Poland, Portugal and Ireland).

If customers wish to use the HotSpot Drive service, they have to order it with the purchase of a new BMW as part of the optional equipment package “Telephony with wireless charging”. But how do they set up their mobile hotspots? Just like wireless Internet at home, the car sends out WiFi signals. Users can then connect their mobile devices to the car’s hotspot. The system then automatically directs browsers on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop to an international HotSpot Drive landing page where they can book their online access: The HotSpot Drive standard tariff is good for a month throughout Europe. If needed, optional data packages are available. And for trips outside of Europe, there’s the World Pass choice. Deutsche Telekom also localises the online offerings according to where BMW customers bought their HotSpot Drive no matter where they happen to be driving at the moment. That means global websites, news portals, and social media presented on users’ mobile devices are linked to their home country. This function enables users to surf the web just like they would from the comfort of their own living room – even when they’re on a road trip abroad.

eSIM: Optimal connectivity
BMW installs the necessary technology in its cars right at the factory. The wireless connection uses a so-called embedded SIM, or eSim for short. This works essentially just like a SIM card for your smartphone. But unlike cards that can be replaced, this one is attached firmly to a chip inside the car antenna. HotSpot Drive has a key advantage for their users: The service always delivers the best available connectivity for the BMW. Within the networks of Telekom and its partners, even LTE speed is possible, while traveling on the road. The eSIM isn’t just the gateway to the World Wide Web. It enables the transfer of so-called telematic data from a BMW’s on-board and driver-assistance systems, as well as system updates and current traffic information. The new “eCall” system also uses the eSIM to contact emergency services in the event of an accident detected automatically by a car’s sensors.

In order to separate sensitive automotive services from passenger WiFi usage, the eSIM provides two access points, or APNs, for the car’s wireless connectivity. The so-called dual APN technology ensures the car’s on-board systems requiring Internet access aren’t impacted by the wireless hotspot used by passengers. This feature by the eSIM makes a second SIM card for separate data traffic unnecessary.

Fast network switching
HotSpot Drive is also designed to allow rapid network switching at high speed. For this, the solution again relies on the eSIM: Deutsche Telekom makes sure the Internet connection doesn’t fail while the card changes to the best quality network in a fraction of a second. Passengers using WiFi in the car won’t even notice the switch of wireless providers. BMW is outpacing the competition with Deutsche Telekom’s intelligently managed service. Instead of cobbling together connectivity services country by country on its own, HotSpot Drive offers centralised management across national borders. It also already adheres to a new regulation set by the European Parliament: Starting in April 2018, all new cars sold in the European Union must be fitted with the eCall system to call automatically for help in an emergency.

The only catch is that HotSpot Drive cannot be installed at a later date. This means anyone wishing to have optimal WiFi connectivity in a BMW has to order the optional service when buying a new car. WiFi dongles and smartphone tethering will not provide the same hotspot experience, since a car’s metal chassis can greatly affect wireless reception. That’s not the case with HotSpot Drive: Built into a BMW at the factory, this integrated technology delivers the best possible mobile reception via the car antenna.