GM launches in-car hotspots from Autonet Mobile

In-car Wi-Fi isn't a completely terrible idea; and having a reliable connection to the Internet could significantly change car travel for everyone involved. A DIY car stereo, for example, could be equipped with free services like Pandora, Shoutcast, and Mediafly for the driver, or headrest-mounted monitors could stream Netflix for the passengers. These sorts of things could be handy on any length trip, and there are forums all over the place for enthusiasts looking to build systems which could benefit from a broadband connection.

Today, General Motors announced it has begun offering "Chevrolet Wi-Fi" in seven of its current generation Chevrolet vehicles: Equinox,Traverse, Silverado, Tahoe, Suburban, Avalanche, and Express. The service is provided by Autonet Mobile, which provides connectivity to select Chrysler, Dodge and Volkswagen automobiles as well.

The service's hardware is installed by Chevrolet dealers and lets the vehicle broadcast a 150-foot radius Wi-Fi hotspot. The router costs $199 with a two-year service agreement with Autonet Mobile. Monthly subscriptions start at $29 a month for a 1GB data cap, and a 5GB data plan is also available for $59 a month.

Chevrolet Wi-Fi offers speeds up to 1.5Mbps, and general 3G performance of around 400-800kbps downlink and 128-300kbps uplink. The service's 2G speeds are considerably lower at 120-200kbps downlink and 50-100kbps uplink.

While Autonet Mobile --the self-proclaimed "first ISP for vehicles"-- offers a product comparable in both price and performance to other mobile broadband solutions, it is significantly less versatile than a device like the Novatel MiFi --or, to a lesser extent, the Netgear 3G router. However, the MiFi offers only about three hours of battery-powered connectivity, and the Netgear router requires an AC power outlet. Autonet Mobile is ostensibly always attached to its power source.

When viewed as a connectivity solution for workforce vehicles. Chevrolet Wi-Fi may have an edge over something like Ford Work Solutions. Ford's mobile connectivity costs $50 per month, but tacks on about $1,200 to the vehicle's sticker price for an in-dash PC and doesn't let users connect any 802.11-compatible device.

On first glance, Chevrolet Wi-Fi looks like a gimmick to attract customers to Chevrolet's least fuel efficient vehicles. However, fuel economy is less of a selling point for utility vehicles than it is for coupes and sedans, and the Chevy Silverado has actually been the number three best-selling automobile in the United States this year. The majority of the vehicles involved in the program are Sport Utility Vehicles, the sales of which GM has been trying to rejuvinate this year.

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