I just came back from a long road trip in Arizona. Seriously long. The rental car started with 22,590 miles on its odometer. We returned it with 24,191 miles. That’s 1,601 miles! All over the state of Arizona! Whew!
Armed with free AAA maps, wifi-enabled laptops, and smartphones (yes, we are geeks), we were able to navigate hundreds of miles of city streets and lonely stretches of desert.
But occasionally, we needed to go online for information like weather, hotel reservations, tourist information, etc. In most cases, Google SMS (GOOG) gave us what we needed—especially for weather and specific directions. For other information, a web browser was needed. That’s where our smartphone’s microbrowsers came in handy.
Then I read Michael Lasky’s Wired Magazine article, “Autonet Mobile: Your Own Personal Hotspot, Everywhere You Go“:
Once behind the wheel of the Pontiac, I plug the Autonet into the cigarette lighter and within seconds (seconds, not minutes) my PC picks up a full Wi-Fi signal. In a blink I’m checking gmail, and not long after that I download directions to my hotel. Then I look at my watch. The entire process, from initial plug-in to receiving route info, is done in under a minute. I can’t match this performance — even with my iPhone.
Autonet Mobile is, according to their site, a “Wireless Internet Service Provider designed to maintain internet connectivity within the car.” Based in Marin County, CA, they offer several service plans, none of which are currently listed. Lasky reports that the plans are expected to range from $80-100/month for unlimited service. As of now, they only seem to be available from Avis for $10.95 per day—and then only from select Avis locations.
The technical details: their wifi router offers access speeds of 600-800Kbps and upload speeds of about 200Kbps within a 100ft radius. Autonet runs over both 3G and 2.5G (EVDO, 1xRTT) cellular data networks, which covers roughly 95% of the US. Also, integrated WEP encryption, MAC address restriction and WAN port restriction is provided. This means you get fairly comprehensive coverage and good security.
Ingeniously, the connection is maintained even as you drive past different cell towers and carriers. Autonet has a tower-to-tower hand-off feature that connects to the tower with the strongest EVDO broadband signal, regardless of carrier. How do they do this? With some cool technology and nondenominational network agreements with Sprint and Verizon.
It sounds like a pretty cool idea, though for my needs (getting information while traveling), a smartphone takes care of all that. Why would I pay extra to be able to use my laptop in a rental car?
Answer is, I probably wouldn’t. But what about a new car buyer getting a new car? That’s a bit different. Lasky mentioned this intriguing news: “Starting next month, [Autonet Mobile CEO Sterling] Pratz’s vision will take its next step when Autonet hardware and services is offered at Toyota dealerships in Northern California. Not long after that, other (unnamed) car brands and dealerships will begin to offer Autonet Mobile.”
In dealerships, huh? So you could conceivably buy a car and get an option for wifi? Interesting idea there. I could see road warriors, traveling salespeople, and perhaps even vacationers on road trips enjoying a feature like this—if the price is right. Right now, all of them have mobile phones that can get them the information they need, albeit in varying degrees of quality and speed.
A wifi-enabled car could also offer enhanced navigation services, aside from weather & traffic, which are already offered by many. Perhaps the navigation screen doubles as a web browser? Or, while it gives you directions to a restaurant, it helps you make a reservation too? Or tourist information like hours of service and historical tidbits?
This indeed seems to be what Autonet Mobile is envisioning. Says Pratz: “Autonet Mobile is focused on the personal hotspot as an in-car entertainment solution, replacing in-car DVD systems that lets five to six users simultaneously access the net from any Wi-Fi enabled device — including iPhones. … We expect a range of holding between five to ten movies or flash games, music, TV shows and so on [in the Autonet Mobile device].”
Interesting stuff! The idea of a wifi-enabled car seems like one of those ideas where, ten years from now, we’ll look back and go, “Well, duh! Of course cars have wifi!” It’s going to be cool to see where this technology goes.
(BTW, I’m not being paid for this or anything. It just sounded like a cool idea that I wanted to write about.)