2011 preview: wireless connectivity coming to a car near you

Consumers are set to see an explosion of in-car wifi systems.

Technology analyst iSuppli predicts that by 2017, 7.2 million cars around the world will be shipped with an in-built wifi system, enabling drivers and passengers to connect to the internet while on the road.

For 2010, the firm predicts that 174,000 units would have been shipped with wifi.

Keeping cars connected has become a major goal for global automakers, with new apps and technology appearing almost as regularly as new vehicles themselves.

In the future, consumers could see app downloads available for their vehicle in the same manner that they are available for smartphones, allowing easy access to everything from route-finding software to quick games that can be played at traffic lights.

As well as appearing at the world's auto shows, companies such as Ford and Kia are increasingly being seen at technology events such as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Ford, a market leader when it comes to in-car technology thanks to its successful Sync connectivity package, announced in November that it plans to expand its presence at next year's CES, which runs from January 6-9.

"Wi-Fi in the car is a hot topic these days, with major OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) noticeably incorporating it into new-model releases," said Stacey Oh, analyst and regional manager for Asia automotive research at iSuppli.

"Whereas Wi-Fi was an aftermarket accessory in the past, OEMs now are touting it as a key offering."

The best thing about all of this is that it may not even cost consumers that much - a separate report released by In-Stat November 22 suggested that the cost of adding mobile hotspot ability to a broadband-capable system, such as General Motors' OnStar is only roughly $25 (€18.50) per car or less.