Wi-Fi cars hitting the information superhighway

More cars are hitting the information superhighway thanks to new automotive Wi-Fi technology that allows vehicles to become rolling "hot spots."

Analysts say consumers are warming to the notion of more connectivity in their cars, with "apps" for information and entertainment just as they have with their smartphones or tablet computers.

"Initially, putting Internet access in the car sounds like a distraction and frivolous but as time passes it will become a part of our lives and we will feel uncomfortable not having access," said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecoms analyst.

"I think this is going to grow into a vibrant sector."

Market research firm iSuppli said it expects a surge in worldwide shipments of car Wi-Fi systems to 7.2 million units by 2017, from just 174,000 in 2010.

Wi-Fi has been around for several years as an aftermarket accessory but many major manufacturers now offer some form of Wi-Fi or are developing it.

Ford has been offering Wi-Fi in selected models since 2010 and some form of Internet access is also offered by many other major automakers including General Motors, BMW, Audi, Saab and Chrysler.

In mid-March, Finnish telecom giant Nokia announced the launch of a Car Connectivity Consortium of 11 companies with common technical standards, including vehicle manufacturers Daimler, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

Autonet Mobile, a California-based firm that touts itself as the "first Internet-based telematics and applications service platform" for the auto market, has over 10,000 US customers using its CarFi service at $29 a month, said chief executive Sterling Pratz.

The group recently signed agreements with General Motors and Subaru.

Pratz told AFP that consumers are looking for better entertainment options for passengers in their vehicles and use Wi-Fi for videos, gaming and social networking.

"They feel there is a better way to stay entertained in the car compared with the DVD player. They lead a connected lifestyle and when they get in the car they feel disconnected," he said.

A next step, Pratz said, is other types of applications that can allow parents to monitor speeds of their teen drivers and to find their car if it is stolen.

Autonet, which started in 2005 and has funding from venture capital firms, only operates in the US market but Pratz says he plans talks with European carmakers and is considering Asia as well.

In Europe, Audi is using a system from Marvell Technology and Harman Automotive to create a factory-installed mobile hotspot, allowing up to eight devices to be connected.

"I believe today's consumers want the convenience of seamless connectivity and live content whenever and wherever they choose - whether in the home, office, classroom or automobile," said Weili Dai, Marvell's co-founder and vice president in announcing the system.

"Finally, the car is connected to the rest of our lives."

Saab meanwhile has announced its own system based on Google's Android operating system, dubbed IQon, touted as "a completely new car infotainment user experience."

The Swedish automaker will allow third-party developers to develop "apps" by accessing 500 signals from different sensors in the vehicle.

"With Saab IQon, there are no limits to the potential for innovation," said Saab's Johan Formgren. "We will be inviting the global Android developer community to use their imagination and ingenuity."

Analysts say the market is likely to grow as more applications become available - for entertainment, navigation or even for diagnostics of the automobile.

Yet a key question for developers of the technology is whether to offer Wi-Fi as a separate data system or allow consumers to bring their own.

Ford's Wi-Fi system called MyFord Touch, which is added to its SYNC connectivity for mobile phones and music players, offers no separate data plan but instead allows consumers to plug in their own devices - smartphones, tablet computers or wireless cards.

This not only allows consumers to avoid a new data fee but enables easier adaption of a rapidly changing market for wireless devices, said Ford spokesman Alan Hall.

"We created the ability for a customer to bring in their 3G and 4G devices, and the car can take that signal and turn it into a Wi-Fi signal for four or five passengers in the car," Hall told AFP.

Ford expects to have this Wi-Fi system on 80 percent of its cars sold in North America within four years, Hall said, and is also launching the system globally next year.

Doug Newcomb of the auto research firm Edmunds.com said the Ford strategy appears to make more sense rather than asking customers to pay an additional monthly data subscription.

"Several years ago before smartphones and the iPad, (a separate Wi-Fi system) might have made more sense," Newcomb said.

"Now, people are saying, 'If I have an iPad with 3G why would I need this in the car, why should I pay for another data plan?'... I think the focus now will be how to incorporate the smartphone into the vehicle."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project