San Antonio — The Progressive Retailers Organization was at the Westin La Cantera Hill Coun
Avis Rent A Car is offering its customers a portable car Wi-Fi router that plugs into a cigarette lighter to allow easy access to the Internet.
Avis will make the Wi-Fi router available in San Francisco initially, expanding to nine other cities. Called the Avis Connect, the device may be rented for $10.95 per day to enable Internet surfing, instant messaging and email through the customer's own smartphone, laptop, Sony PSP or other Wi-Fi device.
Avis Connect is supplied by Autonet, a startup "car ISP" that announced a $399 car Wi-Fi router and service at International CES in January. Autonet is also readying its router for sale through car dealers and the aftermarket.
Avis said it is presently the only car rental company offering a Wi-Fi "car hot spot" device. In a test trial, prior to the launch, the key customers for Avis Connect were business travelers, followed by foreign travelers and families with kids, said Autonet co-founder Sterling Pratz.
Following the San Francisco launch, Avis Connect will be available in San Jose, Oakland and Los Angeles, expanding westward to other cities including New York.
Additional cities may be added in the future, said Mike Caron Avis product and program development VP.
He noted that Avis' GPS rental program began in seven localities and eventually broadened to 265 markets. The company rents to customers a Garmin c550 derivative and is planning to offer an updated GPS device for the future.
Autonet will launch its retail version of its car hot spot, called "Autonet," to approximately 50 car dealers starting this summer, expanding to up to 300 by the end of the year. Aftermarket retailers are also targeted to receive the product later this year. The $399 device also carries a monthly service charge of $29.
Autonet claims 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.
Waav, Cambridge, Mass., also offers a cellular router for the car at $499. It works over the Sprint network to allow car passengers to connect to the Internet. The unit is sold through high-end installers, integrators and direct on the Web site www.waav.com. The router comes with a 12-volt adapter and a mounting kit with an embedded modem and a cellular antenna.
The system is called the Airbox CM3. It uses an EVDO Rev A modem and carries a Sprint service fee of $59.99 per month. Waav is also working with Verizon and AT&T to offer the service in the future.