Cellphone network unreliability is something to which we’ve all become accustomed. No network can claim 100% coverage, 100% of the time. In city centres, we expect strong, reliable coverage, but we’ve come to accept the occasional weak, patchy or absent signal, the likelihood of which increases as we venture “off the beaten track”. And it’s for those off the beaten track locations – rural roads, high mountain passes – that European regulators want to implement what’s become known as eCall.
In the event of a critical collision, this pan-European SIM card-based emergency call system sends a message to Public Service Answering Points, or PSAPs; the 112 message – voice or text, depending on the severity of the incident – informs emergency services of a vehicle’s location and status, and dispatches appropriate assistance.
For so long, eCall was expected to come into effect at some time in 2014 or 2015; then it was definitely going to be some time in 2015, and then really definitely at some time in October 2015. Now, following one of several industry-shaking European Parliamentary votes last week, we have an exact date: member states must have the appropriate infrastructure in place by 1 October 2017.
While it looks like the confirmation of a date, it’s just as much as the confirmation of a delay. Make no mistake – like the new EU truck cab rule, there’s no disputing the sentiments behind eCall, or its potential to save thousands of lives. But it raises some challenging questions.
It’s taken since 2004 to get this in place, and the push for it has come from the OEMs. Whilst the regulators worked on fixing a date, the OEMs and suppliers went ahead and developed the technology anyway. Much of what’s required for eCall is already in place, and in use, with numerous OEMs offering broader telematics services that include eCall capability.
But at least there’s a date in place, providing clarity to all parties concerned. OEMs and suppliers now know when their new cars will need to be equipped with SIM cards and eCall technology; emergency services can ensure their PSAPs will be ready, and telecoms companies will need to develop the infrastructure to enable an accurately transmitted emergency call from anywhere in Europe, no matter how deep in the countryside or high on the mountain pass that vehicle might be.
More difficult to comprehend than the equipping of cars with the appropriate technology, and the way the resultant costs will be absorbed and distributed, is the enforcement of this mandate. The technology will need to be certified; not just new technology for sale from October 2017 onwards, but existing solutions which include eCall capability as part of a wider offering. And the legal framework must be rock solid: who will be liable when a call transmission fails?
We now have a date. We now also have many questions. But at least we have two more years to come up with some answers.