Buyers' guide: Car WiFi
More of us are getting ourselves kitted out with mobile broadband than ever before, and it's not hard to see why because of the flexibility it offers us. We can now take our favourite websites and email accounts wherever we go and never need to be far away from the internet. And with in-car TV being a pretty common thing nowadays, it was only a matter of time before mobile broadband got into the car too.
Some people might think having in-car internet as being a bit extreme, but believe it or not there is now a reasonable demand for this service and, as a result, we're starting to see in-car WiFi become a reality. First things first though - we have to stress that we’re not advocating you start surfing the web and responding to emails as you drive down the motorway! However, if you spend quite a lot of time on the road, then there's no doubting the usefulness of having mobile broadband piped to your car using the power of a WiFi connection.
In-car WiFi is still a relatively new phenomenon, and you can effectively do the same sort of thing with a decent smartphone anyway. But if the word on the street is anything to go by, then it seems entirely possible that having car broadband could soon be as normal as using traditional home and mobile broadband services. Theoretically, it has an incredible amount to offer.
Where to start with car Wi-Fi
You won’t have to look far in order to find out how to get started with in-car internet services. The comparison table above is not exactly brimming over with possibilities, but be prepared to watch this space because we think it’s entirely likely that other mobile providers will begin to offer similar deals and car Wi-Fi packages before long.
The more you think about it, the more car WiFi makes an awful lot of sense. Surveys have already suggested the majority of us Brits would actually like the ability to enjoy in-car internet. That's not surprising, because we've all been on journeys when the traffic has ground to a halt and your passengers start to get impatient - or the kids are going nuts in the back. Being able to point them in the direction of the in-car broadband service would bring instant calm to the inside of your vehicle. The same sort of convenience is something that makes car WiFi really appealing to business people too. And, if you neither have kids or aren’t in business, then in-car internet is going to be pretty useful all the same.
The possibilities with in-car internet
Simply being able to access the internet inside your car offers up a wealth of exciting possibilities. for starters, you could use the internet to track down any local information, traffic reports, maps and anything else in relation to your travel plans. At the moment devices like the Apple iPad and other tablet computers along with laptops and netbooks are all prime candidates for tapping into car WiFi systems.
But as the technology moves forward, the possibilities are endless. how much better would your sat nav be if your in car Wi-Fi was transmitting data about your speed, the road conditions and hold ups directly to other cars in your area on the way to the same spot? Or if your vehicle could be tracked along its route by someone waiting for you, or a delivery? It sounds a bit 'big brother', but there are some great advances on the way and thanks to many new software 'apps' all of this is now possible, depending on your needs and the hardware you own.
How does it work?
Car WiFi currently uses a small dongle device much like you'll see listed in our comparison tables for the other mobile broadband packages that are available. Having said that, this is a slightly different approach because the dongle is actually referred to as a MiFi dongle and is designed more as a router device than anything. The fact that it's a router therefore means it's able to serve out the mobile broadband connection to more than one device. In that respect, you can send the mobile signal to anyone who has their machine or device setup to receive it and all while they're in the vehicle.
The practicalities of using in-car WiFi are fairly straightforward, there's really not an awful lot to see in terms of how it works, but once you start to experience the benefits of in-car internet you can soon see why so many motorist across the country have given this concept a resounding thumbs up so far.
Will car WiFi be useful to me?
We all need information, whether we're at home or on the move, and the internet is the first place we tend to look if we need a quick answer to a query. So, for example, imagine if you’re out and about in an area that you’re not quite familiar with. By using in-car WiFi it’s possible to track down any kind of shopping outlet, garages, fast food restaurants and, in fact, anything else you might need to locate very quickly. Also, you can use it outside the car too - its just an extra facet to mobile broadband.
Of course, you can do similar things with sat-nav devices, but the car WiFi route allows you to drill down and get even more thorough information, check up on opening times and even email the branch of a business to find out if they're open or not. That's just one or two possible uses for in-car internet, but really the possibilities are endless. If you’re a music fan then it’s possible to use in-car WiFi to access music services, download tracks and then listen to them while you’re on the go. Again, one of the things to watch out for with following this line of thinking is that you need to keep an eye on data allowances.
If you start downloading lots of content then you'll soon munch your way through the allowances, and overstepping the mark might mean you’ll have to pay more. Besides, mobile broadband isn’t always the greatest tool for carrying out multiple downloads and there are also issues such as coverage to consider when looking at in-car WiFi systems.
Will car WiFi catch-on?
It's very likely that as demand grows we'll see our comparison tables being populated with more and more devices that will enable you to turn your car into a mobile WiFi hotspot. This will obviously be good for consumers because the more demand there is then the larger array of packages and, theoretically, the better prices we’ll be able to get for our car internet services. The future is bound to see devices and functionality built in, but chances are you'll still a separate deal from your mobile broadband supplier to hook it up.
Another thing to remember is that the whole concept of car WiFi is something of an evolving technology, and anything in-car does have varying degrees of success. While in-car internet generally works well, you may find that you have to play around with the settings a little in order to get the best out of both the mobile broadband reception and also your data allowance. All of which must be done either by a passenger or after you’ve stopped the car in a safe and legal place.