Mobile Hotspots: Is Connecting Worth the Cost?
These days, WiFi hotspots seem to be everywhere. Whether you're at home, work, school or the coffee shop, there always seems to be a free wireless network just waiting for your device. Even gyms, malls, airports and other establishments offer their own WiFi networks. With such an abundance of hotspots, why can't you easily get a WiFi signal in your car?
Actually, you can - and at an ever-increasing rate. Until recently, only high-end luxury cars offered onboard WiFi hotspots. Now, leading auto makers GM, Audi, Chrysler and Ford are outfitting many of their new car models with Wifi hotspot technology. That means no more burning through your expensive data plan as you listen to Pandora, stream your favorite podcasts or follow directions with Google Maps. That means taking advantage of apps that can alert you of traffic alerts or other information that may impact your travel. It also means your passengers can play their online games, watch movies on Netflix or keep surfing the Web while you drive.
In short, mobile WiFi is pretty dang cool.
Back in 2011, Audi was the first automaker to offer embedded hotspot technology with its 3G Audi Connect system. Now, Audi's technology is powered by AT&T's 4G LTE network. Rates are $99 for 5GB of data over six months or $499 for up to 30 GB of data over 30 months.
GM's hotspot service also uses AT&T's 4G LTE network, offering WiFi plans starting at $5 for 200MB of data and $50 for 5GB. Chrysler offers a pay-as-you-go service through Sprint for $9.99 per day, $19.99 per week or $34.99 per month. The pay-as-you-go model is a great option for people who usually don't need WiFi in their cars, but they'd enjoy having the option when taking long road trips with other passengers in tow. Ford doesn't does not yet offer widespread embedded WiFi, but the popular MyFord Touch infotainment system connects with portable WiFi routers to achieve the same effects at roughly the same price points.
To get WiFi in any vehicle, you can turn to the aftermarket. A company called Autonet Mobile offers a WiFi router for $349 that operates on 3G and 2.5G cellular networks. The Autonet router requires a one-year service contract with a monthly fee of either $29.95 for 1 GB of data per month of $59.95 for 5 GB of data per month. Most nationwide cellular providers also offer mobile hotspot solutions that are effective for maintaining connection in your vehicle - an example is the Verizon Jetpack, which has received great reviews even when tested in hilly terrain.
It's only a matter of time before most new vehicles include WiFi hotspots as standard features. We're closing in on that now, and the technology has only been in place for a few years. This is a move that makes sense for various entertainment and safety reasons. Also, many of today's top consumer electronics depend on having a working WiFi connection. Even car diagnostics are performed remotely by connecting to the Internet. With such a demand for hotspot access, mobile hotspot technology is destined to be as common as Bluetooth compatibility.