Built-in car Wi-fi system shipments set to soar

Global shipments of built-in car wi-fi systems are set to soar by more than forty fold by 2017, iSuppli has said.

The research company said this growth will be driven as vehicle manufacturers look to
wireless connectivity as a way to stand out from the competitive crowd.

As a result, worldwide automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM) shipments of wi-fi systems will rise to 7.2 million units in 2017, up from just 174,000 in 2010.

“Wi-fi in the car is a hot topic these days, with major OEMs noticeably incorporating it into new-model releases,” said Stacey Oh, analyst and regional manager for Asia automotive research at iSuppli. “Whereas wi-fi was an aftermarket accessory in the past, OEMs now are touting it as a key offering.”

One company that’s already ahead of the game is Ford Motor Co, which, according to iSuppli,  is turning its vehicles into wi-fi hot spots with the next generation of its Sync in-car connectivity system.

MyFord is said to incorporate in-car wi-fi connectivity, powered by a customer’s existing USB mobile broadband modem, to reduce cost for the consumer and the OEM, while requiring less space in the vehicle for a modem.

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

Meanwhile, European OEMs are driving in a different direction. Marvell Technology and Harman Automotive in August announced integrated wi-fi connectivity via Marvell Mobile Hotspot (MMH) technology, with the 2010 Audi A8 as the first vehicle on the market to feature the factory-installed mobile hotspot.

Together, Marvell and Harman Automotive have 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. Implementing a full-featured, WLAN access point integrated entirely on the wireless chip, the MMH technology is incorporated into Harman’s connectivity system and has a local wi-fi mobile hotspot within the vehicle, giving passengers access to Web-based services.

The new system can support up to eight devices including smartphones and tablets. To activate web access, the user has to insert a SIM card—usually a duplicate—so users receive one bill into the SIM slot, which is part of the optional Bluetooth Auto Telephone.

“Wi-fi gives OEMs a competitive advantage,” Oh said.

“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,” she added.