TECHNOLOGY by Cubic Telecom is in use in nearly three million smart vehicles today - and the Irish firm expects that to increase to 20 million within three years.
"The software in smart vehicles has 10 times more code than in mobile phones. This complexity will only increase as we move toward a world of autonomous vehicles," says Richard Springer, director of commercial strategy at the Sandyford-based firm.
"The next wave of developers won't be developing for smartphones," he says. "They'll be developing for vehicles, drones and tractors."
Cubic, which a decade ago principally sold roaming Sim cards to travellers, has positioned itself to play a central role in all three emerging fields - and in off-the-grid satellite communications too.
Its expertise in connecting a growing range of devices to the Internet of Things (IoT) has spurred more than €110m in external investment led by Qualcomm, Audi, the European Investment Bank, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (Isif) and, most recently, Act Venture Capital in Dublin.
Built up since 2008 by chief executive Barry Napier, Cubic achieved its breakthrough moment in 2016 by clinching a partnership with Audi.
That agreement to supply Audi Connect wi-fi and infotainment services on high-end vehicles has evolved into an ever-growing collaboration with Audi's parent, the Volkswagen Group.
Today nearly 1.2 million Audis have Cubic Sims and software. Volkswagen factories in Europe started installing Cubic's products in 2018 on 300,000 Passats and Tuaregs, followed by tens of thousands of vehicles produced by VW's Porsche, Skoda and Seat brands.
The independent electric vehicle startup e.GO Mobile also uses Cubic tech.
Springer says this is a pivotal moment in an auto industry innovating at arguably the fastest pace in its history.
He sees growth accelerating amid intense competition promoted by the shift to electric-powered cars and to autonomous driving systems, which will require internet connections with millisecond precision. The 5G coverage needed to enable that shift is just around the corner, he says.
Cubic has just begun to install its tech in VW Group vehicles manufactured and sold outside Europe, in part thanks to its agreement last year to support the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform.
It also provides IoT connectivity for motorcycles for Panasonic Automotive customers across Europe and, since 2019, North America.
"We've done Europe. Across the world in the next three years, we are contracted to deliver connectivity to more than 20 million vehicles, first in the US and in Far Eastern countries too," Springer says.
America proved an initially tough nut to crack because, unlike in the EU, the US enforces a more rigid regime for mobile links.
"In Europe, roaming between nations is mainly allowed. Our services in Europe would roam on the Eir network, while the Sims are Danish. But in America and Canada, we can't roam at all," Springer says.
"In America we have to connect to one operator. This makes it massively complicated. They don't like roaming at all there, and their very strict tax regulations and the networks there are not friendly to external devices coming in."
While its relationship with VW Group lines drive around 70pc of revenues today, he sees Cubic striking deals with other car makers, particularly in Asia.
"The American side of things thinks they're doing quite well already. Asia is more open to the future and what technology is coming on line. They're the early movers on 5G. They are likely to make the fastest progress on electronic vehicles, not the American side," he says.
"The new electronic cars are almost computers on wheels. Managing their software is a major part of their function - and connectivity is key.
"When 5G comes and we start to get autonomous driving, there needs to be very quick feedback from the car to manage that. That's where the future is. We're actively talking with networks on how they're rolling out 5G. It's a key requirement for customers around the world. A lot of people don't understand how important this will become, but it's coming quickly."
Cubic's ability to keep cars seamlessly online in 83 countries has evolved into a much deeper skill set.
Top-end cars contain multiple CPUs, modems and multi-provider Sims that together analyse component functions, alert driver and manufacturer alike to potential problems for repair or service, and download software updates needed to adjust motor and suspension performance - and even add new features and abilities from the engine to video displays.
Cubic can monitor in real time how each one of the three million cars with its tech on board is performing whenever its ignition is on.
This ability has come to the fore during the global pandemic, because Cubic can see how each of its connected cars behaves country by country, locality by locality.
"It's been a terrible time in terms of human impact, but a fascinating time in terms of forecasting," Springer says.
"We could see every country shutting down live. We could tell the impact straight away. We could see that 90pc of cars in Italy and Spain left the road within two days of their lockdown dates. You'd get half the amount of traffic the day following the lockdown, followed by 90pc down."
By contrast, Cubic identified 60pc drops in traffic in Germany, the UK and Ireland - with the Germans retaking the road most confidently, the British the most cautiously.
"We can tell throughout the day how cars are moving, the distances they're travelling based on the cells they're hitting or the duration and speed of their drive. Our infrastructure means we can pull data from mobile operators and the auto manufacturers," he says.
Cubic does not yet "monetise analytics", he says, but could "sell that data to insurance companies and tourism boards, to give them more of an insight into markets".
The current slump in vehicle traffic "impacts us directly", Springer says. "We are a virtual operator. We would buy and sell data on to the auto manufacturer. If a car is not driving, we don't get that revenue coming in."
Cubic announced a string of new tech partnerships outside the auto space in the weeks preceding widespread pandemic disruption in Europe and the US.
These include a January deal to track, monitor and control food delivery drones for Manna Aero, a start-up company hoping to launch an Irish food delivery service with JustEat, pending Irish Aviation Authority approval. For now, Manna Aero operates trial deliveries of medicines from Obama Plaza in Moneygall, Co Offaly.
Springer, a South African who came to Ireland in 2005 and settled in Tipperary, sees tractors as ideal for Cubic tech.
Cubic agreed in March to start providing 'precision farming' technology to operators of tractors and harvesters made by New Holland and Case.
On-board sensors, software and wifi will collect, analyse and communicate data to the farmer on field and soil conditions and even "the weight of the feed you just gave to the bullocks", Springer says.
In another deal announced in early March, Cubic is partnering with US satellite communications firm Kymeta to provide 'always on' internet links for emergency vehicles, including rescue and military units.
"Combining our cellular services with Kymeta's satellite connections into one package gives users guaranteed internet anywhere," he says, "even at sea, on a mountain- top or in a desert."