Amid the tables full of smartphones and tablets this week at the mobile industry’s largest trade show, the life-size replica of a Volvo FH Connected 500 truck stood out.

The truck was parked in the exhibition space for AT&T as part of a larger theme about the city of the future. The trailer of the truck was a giant screen, streaming an explanation of the evolving capabilities of AT&T’s in-vehicle services. What was once a basic GPS system, has evolved over the past 15 years to provide a suite of data services for trucking companies, including monitoring of the vehicle’s components, route optimization, and a hotspot for drivers to use along the route.

Beyond its gee-whiz technology, the truck’s presence at Mobile World Congress, which drew 100,000 attendees to Barcelona, served as an indication of the growing interest that telecom companies are showing in the trucking world.

During a keynote address this week, Nokia Chief Executive Rajeev Suri cited the need to support future connected services for logistics and fleet management as a reason the industry had to push faster to deploy far faster mobile networks.

“You need networks with vastly superior performances to what we have today,” he said. “With that, it’s not going to much of a revolution.”

The talk around trucking came as Mobile World Congress dramatically increased the presence of manufacturers and presentations related to the future of transportation. From the perspective of the wireless business, sales of smartphones, which had propelled the industry’s growth for a decade, have been slowing. Transportation is one of the sectors the mobile industry believes represents a tremendous opportunity.

To be sure, much of the focus at Mobile World Congress was on connected and autonomous passenger vehicles. But there was still sizable attention devoted to the trucking industry and a growing recognition of the potential to disrupt a vital industry that is hungry for technology that could bring greater efficiencies, savings, better safety and new opportunities.

“It’s safe to say that logistics is the back bone of the economy,” said Daniela Gerd tom Markotten, head of Digital Solutions & Services for Mercedes-Benz Trucks, during a presentation at Mobile World Congress.

AT&T’s rival, Verizon Wireless, was highlighting its own foray into this market.

The company had on display a van powered by Telogis, the fleet management startup it acquired last year for an undisclosed sum. And it was talking to visitors and potential partners about its telematics business, which was bolstered last year by its $2.4 billion purchase of GPS vehicle tracking firm Fleetmatics.

Telogis-powered van on display by Verizon at Mobile World Congress. (Photo: Chris O'Brien/Trucks.com)

Perhaps the splashiest announcement came from Ford Motor Co., which unveiled a concept called “Autolivery.” The system would use autonomous, self-driving trucks to make deliveries in cities. And it would be equipped with drones that could carry packages up high-rise buildings.

A more reality-based step was taken by Renault Nissan and Transdev, a French developer of public transportation solutions, including buses and trains. The companies unveiled a new partnership to jointly find ways to adapt Renault Nissan’s technology for electric and autonomous vehicles, as well as connected-car technologies for the public transportation sector.

“We believe that most vehicles in cities will be electric within a decade,” said Ogi Redzic, senior vice president of connected vehicles and mobility services for Renault Nissan.

Initially, the work will focus on developing autonomous capabilities for the Renault Zoe, the company’s small electric passenger car, so it can be deployed for fleets for government agencies and companies. From there, the idea is to take lessons learned and technology developed and apply it to buses and other regional transit options.

“We want to share our experiences and capabilities to go faster,” said Yann Leriche, chief performance officer at Transdev. “There’s a lot to learn about a vehicle without a driver.”

Related: Will the Sharing Economy Disrupt Trucking, Transportation and Logistics? 

About The Author

Chris O'Brien is the European Correspondent for Trucks.com. He is a journalist based in Toulouse, France, and also writes for VentureBeat. He spent 15 years covering Silicon Valley for the Los Angeles Times and San Jose Mercury News. He can be found on Twitter: @obrien.

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