In-car e-mail added to BMWs

BMW has rolled out an in-car e-mail system in the UAE following a large demand for connected-car services in the country.

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By  Patrick Phelvin Published  January 25, 2004

|~|friedmann.jpg|~|The BMW cars will be fitted with GPRS phones as standard from next year, says Christophe Friedmann.|~|BMW has rolled out an in-car e-mail system in the UAE following a large demand for connected-car services in the country. From March, customers buying new five, six or seven series cars will be able to read and reply to e-mails sent to BMW online accounts as part of the car maker’s ConnectedDrive concept. The UAE is only the third country in the world, after Germany and the United Kingdom, in which the in-car e-mail system has been made available. Users access the service by inserting an Etisalat mobile telephone SIM card into the in-car telephone. E-mail is then accessed via a local call and downloaded using circuit switch data (CSD) technology. The car maker chose to launch the service in the UAE because of a large perceived demand from business professionals who are constantly on the move. “Development in the UAE was much faster than in Germany or the UK because the request [for the service] was much stronger. Drivers not only told us it would be nice, they told us ‘we want this system now’,” says Axel Moering of BMW’s Projekt ConnectedDrive. Each user is allocated an individual, online, password-protected BMW e-mail account, which can be accessed from any internet connection and has 10Mbytes of storage. Users are charged as part of their normal Etisalat bill with airtime rates of Dhs0.24 peak and Dhs0.18 off peak for message download. E-mails are viewed on the car’s dashboard monitor and are accessed using the car’s iDrive controller. Although there is no keyboard in the car, a range of pre-defined responses can be programmed into the car’s onboard computer or a dial-type controller can be used to select letters of the alphabet individually to send more detailed messages. BMW plans to introduce added features to the service in the future, such as localised information about hotels and entertainment. It says picture download and full web browsing can also be expected in the future. The car manufacturer has also signed an agreement with Dubai Police to make BMW Assist Online available in the Emirate. Under the scheme, drivers can have an instant in-car voice connection to a police emergency room should they be involved in an accident or need urgent police assistance. “We wish to bring the driver out of his isolation, giving him access to all the information he finds important or desirable,” says Robert Bailey-McEwan, managing director, BMW Group Middle East. “With BMW ConnectedDrive, BMW is making a significant, far-reaching contribution to the improvement of mobility,” he adds. Because the in-car phone is a GSM-model and not GPRS-enabled, users travelling between GCC countries will be subject to individual roaming charges and download time is slow, averaging about five seconds per CSD message. BMW has tried to negate this factor by optimising the messages for dial-up connection. “Currently there are no images in the messages, which are just text and they have been optimised for fast download,” says Christophe Friedmann, alliance management, ConnectedDrive. “GPRS is five times faster [than GSM] and the cars will be fitted with GPRS phones as standard from early next year so messages will take just one second [to download]. An added advantage of this is that users will be permanently online,” he adds. Currently, the ConnectedDrive facility is only available in English, and BMW has no plans to Arabise the service or to expand it across other Middle East countries. It has enabled cars manufactured after September 2002 and they can be retro-fitted with ConnectedDrive at a cost of approximately US$750. Both French and Japanese car manufacturers are following up on BMW’s lead as the move towards more online services being made available in the car grows in line with an increased demand for round-the-clock access to communications and the use of GPRS technology widens. In an effort to avoid being made redundant by the emergence of GPRS-enabled converged personal digital assistants (PDAs), BMW, Citroën, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Volvo are working with software manufacturers like Microsoft to add voice recognition and heads-up displays to add value to their connected-car offerings and increase the safety of using the systems. ||**||

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