Market Watch

Wi-Fi in the Car—Past and Present

A look at the many current and future offerings in vehicles

November 17, 2010

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Wi-Fi in the car is a hot topic these days, with major OEMs noticeably incorporating it into new model releases. Whereas Wi-Fi was brought in as an aftermarket accessory in the past, now OEMs are touting it as a key offering.

The Bridge Strategy
In the U.S., the bridge strategy to get Internet in the car was a dealer accessory item from Autonet Mobile. Chrysler was the first to offer such on several Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models since the fourth quarter of 2008 and General Motors was the second OEM to incorporate the Internet solution.

Autonet Mobile’s Cadillac Wi-Fi is essentially the same technology as Chrysler’s uconnect web solution. The only difference is that Chrysler’s solution is hardwired to the trunk, whereas the Cadillac solution is designed to be able to move from vehicle to vehicle with installed docking stations. 

OEMs Embedding Wi-Fi
With the next generation of its Sync in-car connectivity system, Ford is turning its vehicles into Wi-Fi hot spots. MyFord is able to incorporate in-car Wi-Fi connectivity, powered by any customer’s existing USB mobile broadband modem. This solution inherently lowers cost for the consumer and the OEM, while requiring less space in the vehicle for a modem.

Furthermore, the system is also able to integrate WLAN from a local hotspot and utilize it for downloads into the vehicle, which could in the future include anything from map updates to software patches and vehicle dynamics revisions.

While Ford is still the only volume OEM to have embedded Wi-Fi for production at this point, others are soon to follow. The new Audi A8 is a good example.

Via SIM Card
Meanwhile, European OEMs are going a different route. Marvell and Harman earlier in August announced integrated Wi-Fi connectivity via Marvell Mobile Hotspot (MMH) technology. The 2010 Audi A8 is the first on the market to feature the factory-installed mobile hotspot.

Marvell and Harman Automotive integrated MMH technology into the Audi vehicle through a built-in WLAN module, enabling high-speed online and Internet access via cellular link or Bluetooth devices. The MMH technology implements a full-featured, WLAN access point integrated entirely on the wireless chip. The technology integrated into Harman connectivity system has a local Wi-Fi mobile hotspot within the vehicle, giving passengers access to Web-based services.

Up to eight devices can be supported, from smart phones to tablets and other advanced mobile devices. Marvell’s Wi-Fi software architecture is optimized for low power consumption on battery-powered consumer electronics, enabling passengers to connect to the vehicle’s network without affecting the battery life of their connected devices.

A Competitive Advantage
All of these options give the OEMs a competitive advantage at this point. Staying connected is important to users and can improve the overall in-vehicle experience. And as Sync has elevated Ford’s image as a cutting-edge technology brand, OEMs probably want their brands to be associated with Wi-Fi to at least be relevant in this connected era.

However, unlike Internet usage on the vehicle headunit from a telematics service, which can be tracked by the OEM for information gathering or CRM purposes, mobile-device-based Internet usage information will not directly benefit the OEM.

Data that can be collected via a connected in-vehicle system is accessible to the OEM. Knowing which services drivers and passengers are using in the vehicle can give OEMs clues on what the next killer app might be. In the long run, OEMs have to make sure to have a constant connection to their customers, rather than just providing them with a pipe.

Other problems OEMs have to deal with are the data packages and associated extra charges. Are drivers willing to pay for another subscription plan on top of their home and wireless bills? Europe may have found a solution to that question.

Find Out More > iSuppli’s Automotive Research Portal – Infotainment

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