The market research firm iSuppli recently predicted that factory-installed Wi-Fi will grow from about 174,000 this year to 7.2 million in 2017. That got me thinking about in-vehicle Internet access.
iSuppli said automakers increasingly view wireless connectivity as a key competitive differentiator, and I am sure they do, but there is little consensus on how to provide that connectivity and little evidence of how - in what compelling ways - it will benefit drivers and passengers. Not to say it won’t. We have a few years to figure that out, or find what used to be called the killer app.
Chrysler, General Motors, Subaru, and possibly some others I might have missed have announced the availability of Autonet Mobile technology as an option on their vehicles. Autonet touts the quality of its connection, but its router costs upwards of $400 plus a $29 per-month subscription.
Ford leverages a customer’s smart phone, providing in-vehicle Wi-Fi connectivity with factory-installed hardware accessible via a USB port on the MyFord Touch Media Hub into which customers can plug their USB mobile broadband modem. iSuppli notes that Ford’s system can also integrate WLAN from a local hotspot for downloads into the vehicle – like map updates, software patches, and vehicle dynamics revisions.
iSuppli also cites the Marvell Technology and Harman Automotive collaboration that produced Marvell Mobile Hotspot, which is available on the 2010 Audi A8. A built-in WLAN module enables high-speed online and Internet access via cellular link or Bluetooth device. Activating web access requires a SIM card.
BMW offers in-vehicle Internet access in Germany. Drivers can surf the web while their vehicle is parked and rear-seat passengers can do the same while traveling. BMW suggests that its customers might want to book opera tickets online, order literature from Amazon, or catch the final moments of an eBay auction.
What’s nice is that those who wish to do all that and more while in their car, and can afford it, now have the opportunity. We can be thankful for early adopters.