Mobility in Europe just got safer; in April 2018, eCall became mandatory in all new cars and light vehicle models in Europe, and ERTICO was one of the strongest advocates for having every car equipped with this new technology.

In this second interview of Meet the ERTICO Expert series, we spoke about eCall with François Fischer who has strongly contributed to the development of this technology.

What inspired you to start a career in the transport sector?

“I studied IT in engineering school and I am an ICT engineer. Before joining ERTICO as project manager for the deployment of cooperative ITS back in 2011, I was working as standardisation and validation consultant in the Mobile and IP Telecommunications field, and before that I was working in the telecommunication sector for Siemens, where I developed telecommunication equipment for six years.”

What projects are you leading at ERTICO?

“Well, at the moment, I work on different projects and areas; but I am mainly the coordinator of a large H2020 EU co-funded project. An Innovation Action called AUTOPILOT with 45 partners, focusing on IoT and Automated Driving.

Then, I have been working on eCall for many years. For eCall, our team at ERTICO managed a series of HeERO (Harmonised eCall European Pilot) projects and launched a set of supporting activities to ensure interoperability. We organised a number of TESTFEST events for eCall aiming at testing the system on different companies. These events were carried out in cooperation with ETSI, a producer of globally applicable standards for ICT-enabled systems, applications and services deployed across all sectors of industry and society.”

Can you explain how eCall works exactly?

“eCall is a system which automatically initiates a call to the emergency services in case of a crash or severe accident.  Basically, in case of such an eventuality, the eCall in-vehicle system (IVS) is activated and will automatically trigger a call to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP – the police, the firefighters or even a private service provider) and send a short message with a Minimum Set of Data (MSD), before activating the voice channel of the call. Through the voice channel, the PSAP operator will have the possibility to talk with the driver or the passenger to better understand the situation after the accident. Another important feature is the geolocation device of the In-Vehicle System, which transmits the vehicle position in the MSD, prior to establishing the voice channel. After the successful receipt of the MSD, the voice channel enables the PSAP operator to evaluate the real situation and the severity of the accident, while discussing with the vehicle occupants. Therefore, the eCall system allows the safety service to provide the most appropriate response after the accident, according to the gravity and the circumstances. Being able to engage in a conversation without using a mobile phone is crucial, as most often, people involved in accidents are unable to reach or use their mobile phone, either because they are stuck in the car or because their phone got damaged, or even worse, the person could have fainted. According to studies, this emergency system is expected to save thousands of lives every year and improve the efficiency of security services. The position is provided by the GPS receiver, so rescue services need not locate the car.

eCall is an interesting development for different reasons; first of all, it is the first regulation mandating in car Intelligent Transport Systems using mobile communication. The eCall regulation then mandates the use of Galileo, the European Global Satellite Navigation System (GNSS), boosting thus the EU space industry and creating opportunities for innovative Mobility application. Mandating mobile communication modems and GNSS positioning in the new type of vehicle is also very likely to open doors for innovative mobility applications in these equipped vehicles.”

What was ERTICO’s role on eCall?

“ERTICO’s work started well before the HeERO project, which dealt specifically with the development of eCall in EU Members States. We first managed another project named GST in 2003, which focused on telematics services.

The development of eCall was not swift and there were long lasting discussions on which technologies to use depending on what was available at the time of the initial studies. It took a long time to decide on what technology to set up and how. Discussions tackled, for instance, how to send the MSD message (over SMS or email over 3G?).

Ultimately, the GSM system was considered the best alternative, taking into account the level of 3G deployment at the time of the studies. Then, the creation of a regulation was another crucial point, along with studying the procedures for implementing and integrating the In-Vehicle Systems.”

Now that eCall is a reality, and has overcome these previous challenges, what are the new obstacles, if any?

“That’s exactly a question many stakeholders have posed, because it seemed like certain elements were not addressed completely during the different discussions and the drafting of the regulation texts. The current regulation and the technology we now have are appropriate, but efforts are still needed to have people trained in the EU Member States. With this regard, another brain-teaser is the fast evolution of telecommunications technology, in particular the shift from 2G/3G towards 4G and 5G. Despite opting to use the GSM technology, we know that some operators will probably decommission their GSM equipment on the basis that this is foreseen to gradually become obsolete and not probably replaced. The pace of the mobile network industry and the long life of vehicles is not aligned. This is why we have to prepare for the next generation eCall.”

What do you mean by “next generation eCall”?

“Next generation eCall means using the next generation network, for instance LTE and the future 5G mobile networks, which differs from  2G and 3G networks; from 4G onwards, calls will be possible only over the internet using Voice over IP. So, the next generation eCall will have to adapt the eCall application to use the new generation mobile network.

The next step is to find out how to prepare the next generation of vehicles that need to be adapted for the next generation of mobile network.”

When you mention “next generation of vehicles”, what do you exactly mean? What kind of vehicles?

“From 1 April 2018 all vehicles will be equipped with the pan-European eCall system, using GSM. Next generation vehicles will be the ones equipped with this mandatory eCall. Integrating voice over IP is not easy. It took us 10 years to develop a new regulation, hence, waiting another decade to develop a regulation for the next generation eCall would be counterproductive.  Vehicles need to be adapted quickly, so we need a fast integration path to adapt the next generation of vehicles to the use of LTE, in particular when GSM coverage will not be available. This important step needs to be done to ensure eCall service continuity.”

eCall is mandatory for all vehicles, but what about heavy-good vehicles and Power Two Wheelers?

“eCall is mandatory for cars and it would be very important to have it also for heavy-good vehicles. However, there are specific issues with the latter; for instance, the type of goods transported by the vehicle can be an issue (e.g. dangerous goods).The message sent by the vehicle to the PSAP should, for instance, be adapted to provide some information about the freight. The type of vehicle is also crucial: whether we are talking about a very heavy vehicle or a light one, all this information has to be considered. In this category of vehicles, buses are also considered with their specificities, such as the actual number of passengers. For the Power Two Wheelers, eCall is seen as very important equipment, because motorbikes are vulnerable road users. In case of accident, the risk of heavy injuries is higher and eCall could be saving more lives, but as the passenger can be separated from the vehicle, there is a need to develop specific In-Vehicle Systems. “

Is ERTICO planning to continue the work on eCall?

“Certainly. In 2012, ERTICO launched a series of testing events called TESTFEST to evaluate the interoperability of the eCall devices, namely the In-Vehicle Systems and the PSAP. Today, the participants are still interested to attend further eCall TESTFEST events, but including test scenarios for eCall over LTE. ERTICO will therefore play a critical role to ensure interoperability of the next generation of eCall equipment, operating over LTE mobile networks. The next TESTFEST event also intends to address the needs of heavy good vehicles and Power Two Wheelers. Beyond the evolution of the technologies, it is also necessary to continue supporting Partners, especially for issues related to pan European eCall in terms of deployment.  A very important topic is to also train the different stakeholders, including the staff of the permanent test inspection, or the car repair and maintenance services. ERTICO is developing many solutions that will have direct impact on end users. From eCall to other European projects, our job is to involve the expertise of our 120 Partners and work together to make European transport more efficient and safer.”

Interview by Sara Jane Weeks, Junior Communications Officer at ERTICO.