By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Autonet Mobile, an ISP for the car, said it plans to bring its portable Wi-Fi router that creates a Wi-Fi hot spot for the car to a major retailer by Christmas.
The company also announced at International CES that Delphi will begin producing Autonet's next-generation Wi-Fi router. The new device will include storage so that consumers can "drag and drop" movies, games and music from their PC to the Autonet router.
Autonet's $399 to $599 hot spot is sold through approximately nine car dealers with plans to expand to 300 to 500 car dealers by the end of the year. The device lets passengers use their laptops, smartphones or other Wi-Fi devices to surf the Internet, use instant messaging and email while in a moving vehicle. It carries a monthly service fee of $49.
The device is also available through Avis Rent A Car for $10.95/day in 15 cities with a planned rollout to 30 more cities, said Autonet Mobile CEO Sterling Pratz. Since Avis launched the product in July, it has been rented by thousands of users with "not a single product failure," Pratz claimed.
The device has also been sold to thousands of users online.
The newest version, produced with Delphi, will recognize a PC when it is within range (approximately 100 feet). "When it comes into the vicinity of the house, it splits so one side is connected to the home network and one side connects the devices in your car," Pratz said. On the PC, the car is recognized as a drive and displays an Autonet icon where the user can drag and drop movie, song and video games files for instant transfer to the car. No PC software is required. The new Autonet device can store between 25 and 50 movies, said Pratz. It has not yet been determined whether Delphi or Autonet will distribute the new device.
Autonet said it is also in talks to offer the product to leading car manufacturers.
The retail rollout of Autonet is progressing slower than originally expected. The company had planned to sell to CE retailers by the end of 2007 and to have sold through 50 car dealers by last summer.
Pratz, a former racecar driver, said, "The challenge for a younger company is not to overdo it. It's easy to get stretched too thin. In our case, we decided to build a really high-quality product at the lowest cost possible and make sure customer service was top notch. So we're taking very natural steps." He pointed out the zero failure rate of the product at Avis.
Retailers, however, have expressed an interest in Autonet, including leading major retailers, said Pratz, although he did not specify which chain. Autonet will be offered through one major retailer by Christmas this year, he noted.
Autonet claimed it provides a seamless Wi-Fi connection in a moving vehicle. It operates as an ISP, offering a type of managed virtual private network (VPN) for cars. But while a VPN is subject to service interruptions, Autonet created a technology "which manages the connection down to the packet layer. The system understands there are packets that might be lost and holds them and redistributes them so you as the user never lose your connection," Pratz said.
The three-year-old company was founded by Pratz and a leading network architect and designer.
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