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IPv6 and Formula One Racing

The Telecom World converged in greater numbers than ever before on Barcelona last week for the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC). This years’ motto: Redefining Mobile.

To see one of the worlds’ leading automotive industry executives, Ford Motor’s Bill Ford Jr. delivering a keynote was yet another illustration of the growing osmosis between Telecommunications and other industry verticals.

In August 2007 we mused in the Go6 column about IPv6 and communicating swarms of cars; IPv6 was even the topic of a talk at the Geneva Auto Show that year. Back in January 2004 it seemed like a privilege to sit a minute in the ‘Renault IPv6 car’ showcased at the European Union IPv6 launch event. But in retrospect, electronic gear was still too bulky and way too expensive and broadband mobile data communication was still in its infancy; miniaturization and advances in storage and processing power still had a way to go before commercialization of the idea made sense.

Eight years onward, the discussion has shifted to an easy way to endow our cars with a unique internet address. It had been noted that cars already have unique identifiers referred to as VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). A VIN consists of 17 characters and has a standardized format including country, manufacturer, vehicle type and features, model year, plant and serial number. A logical approach would be to map the VIN into an IPv6 address. A cursory search on Google shows that, in march 2011, Samsung received a US patent for “a method to set an internet protocol address using a vehicle identification number”. With everything even remotely patentable being patented, we could extrapolate that soon, everything that can be morphed into an IPv6 address will be chained to the patent mountain.

In the meantime some top brands including BMW already offer a teleservice, that enables the car to transmit vital statistics and to ask a technician to immediately perform a remote check-up if the driver thinks something in the vehicle does not function right. Five years from now, such functionality is likely to be standard fare on most new models coming to market. Will it still be outlandish to consider extending the service to include remote monitoring of the vital signs of an aging driver population? There is no doubt that considerable new revenue opportunities lurk not far below the surface as m2m communications increasingly takes hold in a diverse range of application categories with the prospect of billions of mobile and fixed animate and inanimate entities exchanging actionable information.

Formula One Racing has for more than two decades provided an ideal environment to test and pioneer advanced real-time data transmission between cars and teams of engineers and technicians in charge of these purebreds. Every major racing site is equipped with fiber-optic cables hugging the race track, interspersed with strategically located transmission hubs. Helicopters were even used to beam data up and down between cars and the technicians in case of blind spots. The FIA strictly regulates data acquisition and telemetry. Racing teams and car manufacturers are used to have quasi real-time access to all relevant engine and other car data back in headquarters. This allows for continuous fine tuning and improvement of these complex and sometimes fragile creations of human acumen where precision engineering as well as advanced materials and electronics reigns supreme. Winning advantage can be given by minute but fast adaptations.

The recently announced agreement between Tata Communications and Formula One Management to provide connectivity to the twenty racetracks of the International Formula One Racing season reflects the stringent demands of Formula One Racing where car and communications have become totally interdependent. The other dimension is to meet the high expectations of todays’ fans. Whether sitting in the stands or watching remotely on their HDTV screens, laptops, tablets or even smartphones they increasingly expect an ‘augmented experience’ including access to instant replays, choice of view from different angles or track locations, technical and statistical data, all while chitchatting on their social network of choice. Content hosting and transmission capacity commensurate with the expectations of up to seven million simultaneous users accesses from all over the world on racing day are essential to an overall enjoyable F1 experience.

Whether packets are transmitted in IPv4 or IPv6 formats is irrelevant, only the end-user experience and perception counts. The two formats will coexist while the transition to IPv6 will accelerate. Some of us will even perceive the growing roar generated by IPv6 addressed packets zipping by at gigabit speed as they overtake IPv4.

Rev your engines as this years’ Formula One season debuts on March 18th with the Australian Grand Prix.

By Yves Poppe, Director, Business Development IP Strategy at Tata Communications

(Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these articles are solely those of the author and are not in any way attributable to nor reflect any existing or planned official policy or position of his employer in respect thereto.)

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