Watch out, ZipCar, there's a new name in car rentals -- your friendly wireless operator. It might not be the name you'd expect, but Verizon Enterprise Solutions today introduced Verizon Auto Share, a car rental program it says will be available before the end of the year.
AutoShare is essentially a mobile version of ZipCar in which drivers use a mobile app to "Scan and Go" to locate a nearby rental car, a QR-code on the vehicle's windshield to validate the unique vehicle ID number and a key fob on the app itself to unlock and start the car.
Mark Bartolomeo, head of IoT connected solutions at Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), says the new service is in response to the trend towards car sharing over ownership, as well as the younger generation's focus on sustainability and predilection to live in the city. It's also the direction car rental companies are already moving in -- to unattended rentals from parking lots -- so the carrier wants to be seen as a key partner here.
"We've taken our expertise in smartphone apps, our user ID service -- validating who you are, our mobile payment expertise on the handset, our cloud and security and backend integration, so you can complete a transaction in an unattended mode to rent a vehicle," Bartolomeo says.
Verizon Enterprise Solutions eventually plans to open up Auto Share to the public sector, including municipal transit authorities implementing ride-sharing or van-pooling programs. And Verizon says it will use the program to offer other promotional offers such as in-car WiFi and advanced gas refilling options. (See Finding the Value in Transportation Telematics and Verizon Spends $612M for a Future in Cars.)
It's an interesting offering for Verizon because it takes it far beyond connectivity alone, leveraging not only its fixed and LTE network, but also its security, cloud and professional services. Bartolomeo points out that the machine-to-machine (M2M) market, in general, is still nascent, fragmented and unstandardized, so he sees room for Verizon to be the one to provide the whole package. (See M2M Creates Major New Security Challenge and Verizon Chasing Insurance Telematics Gold.)
"This is where we're stepping in to provide leadership in building out an M2M platform as a service," he says. "Instead of just selling them wireless transport to manage end point devices, we're hosting software, providing cyber security, all in the cloud, then collecting and connecting information for the customer and providing them the information."
Verizon is certainly not the only one pursuing the connected car space, however, as all the major carriers are testing different services, partners and pricing plans to get on the road. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), for example, just introduced a suite of new in-car, voice-enabled apps to its Drive platform, including AccuWeather, Glympse, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, Streetline's Parker app and Tribune Digital Ventures.
Speaking at the recent Insurance Telematics USA show in Chicago, Sean Horan, director of M2M sales for AT&T, compared the early days of M2M to throwing services against the wall to see what sticks, but said that now the carrier is drilling down into the core services of value to its customers. (See AT&T Ups the Stakes in Connected Cars.)
"Connectivity is our core, but it's about the integration of handsets and applications and pushing that experience into M2M," Horan said.
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading