By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Chrysler will become the first car maker to offer Internet capability Aug. 25, when its parts division begins selling a Mopar car cellular/Wi-Fi hot spot, expected to be the first of many Internet offerings from the car companies.
The Mopar hot spot will be sold and installed through Chrysler dealers. It is compatible with 2009 Chysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles as well as earlier models. Consumers can order new cars with the device or they can bring their car in to the dealer to have it outfitted with the $499 hot spot, called Uconnect Web. Chrysler will not install the hot spots directly at the factory.
Chrysler's Uconnect Web creates an EV-DO cellular connection that is then converted to Wi-Fi so that many passengers in the car can get secure Web access on their laptops, video game devices and other equipment, simultaneously, without wires, said Sterling Pratz, CEO of Autonet Mobile, which supplies the device to Chrysler.
Autonet Mobile already sells a portable version of the car hot spot to Avis Rent A Car that can be rented for $10.95/day in major cities. Autonet also supplies a hardwired version to two retailers — Custom Sounds of Austin, Texas, and Van Nuys, Calif.-based Al & Ed's Autosound.
Some industry members say the Internet will inevitably invade the car as it did the home. "Like it or not, and not many automotive executives do, the Internet is coming to the automobile," said Phil Magney, automotive VP for analyst firm TRG — now part of iSuppli. "The tentative first steps are coming from the likes of BMW in Europe, with plans to deliver the Internet on wheels to American BMW buyers some time in the future."
Kids are a key reason for demand for the Internet in the car. "They don't really want to watch a DVD — they want to chat and use instant messaging and be on the Internet," said an Autonet spokeswoman.
Navigation devices are also beginning to add Internet capability to enhance address searches and real-time traffic.
Magney added, "The first tentative steps in the U.S. [for car Internet] include Dash's Dash Express PND with its … walled-garden version of Yahoo. But the movement is rapidly encompassing cellular/Wi-Fi devices from Autonet Mobile and, soon, USTelematics."
But car Internet has met with many hurdles to date. The Dash Express, available for less than a year, is now sold through only two retail outlets: Crutchfield and Amazon.com. USTelematics stopped selling its Voyager monitor with Internet capability but hopes to resume sales through a distributor (see story below).
Mitek's Civita with voice-activated Internet radio was shown last fall but has not yet shipped. Mitek CEO Lloyd Ivey noted that the Internet for the car has been "a moving target" as the technology keeps shifting.
Autonet mobile appears to be taking a leading role. Not only is it working with Chryser but it also plans to offer a car hot spot for new cars next year through a partnership with Delphi.
In its Chrysler version, Uconnect Web is hardwired to the car's electrical system and the device is usually mounted in the trunk. An antenna is also mounted on the vehicle. It delivers download speeds from 400kbps to 800kbps with upload speeds averaging 400kbps. The Wi-Fi service operates within 100 feet of the car and the Wi-Fi connection is secured with WEP and other encryptions. Pratz said his system can be converted to work on all cellular and WiMAX networks.
In addition to the $499 fee is a $35 activation fee plus installation. The customer also pays a $29/month subscription fee. Chrysler will supply appropriate Mopar wire harnesses to outfit past Chrysler vehicles, said Pratz,
Autonet sees itself as "a network for cars." The company acts as a carrier, as it manages two network operating centers on each coast and "[we] manage all data moving to and from every car," added Pratz.
The company eliminates dropped calls by "managing 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.
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