Cars as Mobile Hotspots: How Exactly Do Cars Use Wi-Fi?

by Reads (11,704)

The world is getting more connected with each passing day. From smartphones to laptops to tablets to everything in between, the ability for users to get onto the Internet has never been more prevalent than it is now — and the demand to stay online has never been greater either.

Simply put, using the internet has become a fundamental aspect of many people’s lives in the 21st century, and any device that wants to keep up with the times would be wise to come packed with Web connectivity.

This includes cars. Although auto manufacturers have typically been slow to adopt new technology, they have been behind some promising new car tech trends as of late, wireless connectivity included.

But just how have the latest and greatest cars integrated this tech into their well-oiled machines? Read on to get a brief rundown.

Staying Connected

BMW ConnectedDriveGenerally, in-car Wi-Fi is aimed at families that want access to the Internet during a car ride and the productivity crowd that needs to be connected whenever they may require it. Since many users in relatively populated areas can already access the internet through data plans with smartphones, the concept of specified in-car Internet access may seem redundant. But for people that would like to do more intensive tasks — compose documents, download files, stream videos, etc. — at will, Wi-Fi on the go is the answer.

How Its Done

Modern cars do this in a handful of ways. The simplest is by using a MiFi wireless router for mobile Wi-Fi hotspot access wherever it is needed. These nifty devices were introduced just a few years ago, but they work as promised — just set them up and they bring the Internet to you. There’s typically a required monthly fee and/or contract with a phone carrier, however, as instant Internet access does not come for free.

Alternatively, there’s a variety of smartphones that have “tethering” capabilities, which allows them to work as Wi-Fi hotspots similarly to a dedicated MiFi device. Not all operating systems and telecom carriers provide this functionality, though, so it’s worth checking devices to see if they are compatible. Most carriers that provide mobile tethering do charge extra for it, although recent FCC rulings could change that for everyone in the near future.

Ford SYNCIn order to let of these kinds of mobile devices be used more smoothly, many car manufacturers have introduced in-car telematics systems that can effectively turn the car into a big moving mobile hotspot.

Take, for example, Ford’s Sync. Besides giving drivers a variety of voice-activated apps and functions like hands-free phone calls and music control, the infotainment system also lets users hook up a compatible USB mobile broadband modem, or dongle, to its in-car USB port.

By doing this, passengers can take advantage of a WPA2-secured (or “password protected,” in other words) Wi-Fi connection that can be used by everyone in the vehicle simultaneously. in Wi-Fi compatible cars, like those with Sync, when anyone in the family gets bored on a long road trip, they canwatch a movie on Netflix or play a game on their iPad, so long as a modem is connected.

Sync is relatively unique in that it doesn’t charge drivers any extra for the service, which makes sense considering it lets drivers utilize their own modems in Sync-using cars for mobile connectivity.  Most other cars will have their Wi-Fi access and data plans tied to a mobile internet provider or specific carrier’s network, and thus will have a monthly fee to pay along with them.

Audi’s recent A4 and A5 lines are one of the many examples of this, as those cars feature built-in 3G modems that work on T-Mobile’s wireless network to the tune of about $30 a month.

What About LTE?

BMW ConnectedDriveAs is typical with the automobile industry, the switch over to these new technologies has been a slow-moving one. That’s not exactly a bad thing — these are cars, after all, not cafes — but it means that cars are only just starting to utilize the ultrafast 4G LTE wireless connectivity that smartphones, tablets, and the like have been using for months now.

BMW — which produced the first instance of in-car Internet access in 2001 — is once again leading the charge here, as earlier this year it announced its LTE Car Hotspot feature. As its name suggests, the LTE Car Hotspot works with BMW’s ConnectedDrive telematics system, and is just like any other mobile hotspot, except it provides 4G speeds instead of the usual in-car 3G ones. Just hook up an LTE-capable SIM card to the Hotspot and the rest is taken care of by the car.

4G may not be installed in every connected car just yet, but it’s practically inevitable that everyone else adapts to this future sooner rather than later. In fact, that same sentiment can be applied to all cars in general. Make no mistake, the future of cars is a connected one.

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