Product Spotlight: Airbiquity aqLink

So, you know that Ford Sync uses your bluetooth phone to connect to the outside world and deliver services from safety and security to infotainment.  What you may not know is that all that data is being transferred over the voice network, not the data.

The Ford Sync system uses Airbiquity’s aqLink product to deliver the connectivity using a bluetooth paired phone’s voice channel.  The system acts as a modem (officially an ‘in-band software modem’), sending and receiving data at up to 800bps (slooooow, but totally acceptable for current applications).  Sync uses this pipe to send and/or receive things like POI information, turn by turn directions (and more), but it can be used to deliver virtually any type of data.

The transfer rate is low because the data is being sent over the voice channel using the bluetooth handsfree protocol both of which are low bandwidth technologies (i.e. not broadband).  The low bandwidth limits the services that can be delivered through aqLink to primarily those that are optimized for lower data usage (like turn by turn or Automatic Crash Notification), but this architecture does come with some significant benefits.

By limiting the product to data-over-voice only Airbiquity takes advantage of the current technology landscape in a few distinct ways:

  • Not everyone has a data plan and most of those people don’t want to pay for one.
  • Voice coverage is better than wireless broadband coverage (I can’t find the numbers, but if you’ve ever been able to make a call on your smartphone but not be able to get on the internet then you know it’s true).
  • The bluetooth handsfree protocol is supported by just about every system and finally most phones pair successfully.
  • Wireless broadband connections over bluetooth require the Dial Up Networking profile  is not supported broadly yet works as well as the handsfree protocol 5 years ago and is still sometimes difficult to configure.

All of these facts combine to allow the broadest base of users to benefit from the connectivity, over aqLink, of their system.  While aqLink is in itself an advanced technology Airbiquity has chosen to only implement the technologies that are widely adopted and provide greatest reliability (and if I had to guess I’d say that the bluetooth part of the equation is a real problem).  The system wont take advantage of 3G or WiFi connections even when they are available  but Airbiquity gets the job done by providing the server side data solution through it’s VIAaq product (which we will discuss here tomorrow!).

The product can be implemented over most cellular network protocols and since it uses a client/server architecture the in-vehicle part of the software is small and can be integrated quickly.  Probably most important from a customer satisfaction standpoint, it doesn’t interfere with making or receiving calls.

OnStar has been utilizing the aqLink technology for many years and recently Airbiquity announced that DENSO has chosen aqLink to “to support a North American automotive telematics program” (which probably means Toyota’s Safety Connect and/or Lexus’ Enform).

It’s a very interesting enabling technology Airbiquity has here.  Without it it’s unlikely Ford Sync would have the flexibility and reliability it has had thus far.  The low bandwidth strategy makes a lot of sense given the current landscape, but I’d like to see future iterations of products like Ford Sync utilize broadband connections when available and utilize data-over-voice technology as a fallback.  This would increase the capabilities of the system as well as the utility to the customer.  No doubt I’m not the first to have this thought so I look forward to seeing what Airbiquity and others bring to the table as broadband connectivity becomes necessary to deliver advanced telematics services (can you say apps?).

Check back here tomorrow for more on VIAaq and how Airbiquity is integrating different content sources to be delivered over aqLink.


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