Telematics is a term that combines the words telecommunications and informatics to broadly describe the integrated use of communications and information technology to transmit, store and receive information from telecommunications devices to remote objects over a network.  

In terms of its origin, telematics refers broadly to the convergence of telecommunications and information processing. While telematics are primarily used in in the automotive industry, other industries have developed uses for telematics, as well.

Telematics is the English translation of télématique, a word coined by French authors Simon Nora and Alain Minc in their 1978 report, "L'informatisation de la Societe," which forecasted the influence technology would have on society. Given their views, telematics would now include the internet, since the networks running on the internet protocol facilitate the transmission of data across countless networks globally connected over multiple telecommunications network backbones.

How telematics works

The field of telematics can include telecommunications, wireless communications, electrical engineering, computer science, vehicular technologies and road transportation.

Using communications-enabled devices, telematics can store, send and receive information that helps control remote objects, specifically in moving vehicles using navigation systems. The integration of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology into mobile devices and computers enables telematics to mark the location and communicate with a wide range of vehicles.

Vehicle telematics

In commercial usage, telematics is usually synonymous with vehicle telematics. The automotive industry uses telematics to describe onboard communications services and applications used in cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles using GPS receivers and telematics devices installed in each vehicle.

Fleet telematics refers to the use of telematics to manage and monitor commercial vehicle operations, locations and status. Fleet telematics systems enable the exchange of information between a central location and individual vehicles in the fleet, which can include trucks, ambulances, municipal vehicles, school buses and others.

GPS tracking and other wireless communications serve as the medium for transmitting information to and from a vehicle's computerized systems. This enables services such as GPS navigation, roadside assistance, remote diagnostics and fleet management. General Motors Corp. first popularized automotive telematics with its OnStar system.

Vehicle telematics

In addition to GPS, Wi-Fi and mobile data networks -- whether 3G, 4G or upcoming 5G -- may be used to facilitate communication between the vehicle and application or service. Faster wireless networks enable more advanced onboard services, such as vehicle firmware updates -- a task that may have previously required a visit to a car dealership -- multiuser Wi-Fi hotspots and streaming video for passengers.

Combining telematics systems with sensors has opened up additional opportunities in the automotive industry and beyond -- allowing a shipping company to analyze how much time its trucks spend idling, or enabling car insurance companies to offer lower premiums to customers who prove to be safe drivers. Telematics has also supported new industries, such as car-sharing, with companies like Zipcar using onboard, network-based services to allow usage-based pricing and self-service reservations.

Beyond automotive applications, telematics applications are being developed in other industries to do things like monitor water and air pollution, provide medical and healthcare information, and enable distance learning.

Telematics companies

Some third-party companies that offer customers communications and information management for their fleet vehicles brand themselves as telematics providers or as fleet management services providers. These providers often specialize in specific services for their customer bases that include GPS fleet trackers, GPS tracking software and vehicle security services, with some operating globally.

This was last updated in January 2017

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