Saturday, June 6, 2009

The mobile Internet makes its way into cars

Just as radios evolved from hulking home consoles into expected accessories in virtually all cars, so may Wi-Fi Internet access break free to become a commonplace automotive feature. That’s the hope of Autonet Mobile, a company that supplies in-car Wi-Fi routers that let passengers use laptops and other mobile devices in their vehicles.

By 2016, consumers will consider such Internet connectivity as important as traditional features such as safety and fuel economy, said Thilo Koslowski, vice president of the Automotive Manufacturing Industry Advisory Service at market researcher Gartner, Inc.

Autonet Mobile sells its $499 routers through Chrysler and Cadillac dealers as manufacturer-endorsed, dealer-installed options for those cars, branded as Uconnect Web and Cadillac Wi-Fi, respectively. Its routers can also be added to any car after a vehicle is purchased.
Potential customers were skeptical of Wi-Fi in vehicles, but have recently become more in favor of the idea, according to Autonet Mobile CEO Sterling Pratz. With the stamp of approval from car makers, Autonet Mobile’s sales have grown 50 percent every month since November, he said.

However, even with that kind of growth, Pratz would characterize the company’s customer base as numbering “in the thousands.” He said 90 percent of consumers surveyed in a company poll said they would rather have Internet access in their cars than have DVD video players.