In-Car Wi-Fi-nally Here?

January 1, 2007

After nearly a decade of talk from automakers and suppliers that in-car Internet is just a year or two away, it’s nearly arrived in a form that people with today’s laptops, PDAs, and gaming devices can use: an in-car Wi-Fi hot spot. A San Francisco–area company, Autonet Mobile, has announced plans to introduce a new in-car service later this week at the mammoth Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.


The company already has a leading rental-car company — Avis, according to the New York Times — on board to offer the service as an optional extra in some of its cars later this winter, with individual units expected to start shipping in the spring.


Autonet Mobile claims to be the first Internet service provider for cars, and says that it provides the first always-on Broadband Internet service in cars. The company uses a patent-pending, enhanced-reception system that roams existing 3G cellular networks and can switch seamlessly between neighboring networks and high/low-speed connections as needed without interrupting the session. Furthermore, the company claims that the connection is consistent enough to play games, stream media, or use Wi-Fi phones.

The service will work on 95 percent of U.S. roads, the company says, in all terrains and driving conditions, and even in tunnels — which sounds to us to be better than most cellphone service. Since the service uses existing coverage, some of the largest holes in Lower 48 service remain in the Rocky Mountain states and Maine.


While the cellular signal reception is proprietary, wireless reception inside the car works on existing Wi-Fi standards, so connecting wouldn’t be any more of a challenge than connecting to your home network or at the café. Several devices can be used concurrently, depending on available bandwidth.


Although the system is of course only for passengers to use if the car is in motion, the system would not necessarily be able to tell if the one playing Texas Hold ’Em is also the one driving. With cellphone use and the complexity of in-car controls already hot-buttons for safety experts, distraction might prove a concern.


The Autonet Mobile Unit, including optimized mobile router, will cost $399, and nationwide monthly service will run $49 per month.

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