Whether you are a business professional, a student, or just someone who likes to stay connected, accessing the Internet and e-mail servers while away from your home or office is becoming more and more popular. While you can purchase an Internet card from your cellular provider or hook up at a pay-for-time hot spot, another solution on the market is the Autonet, a wireless Internet hub designed for use in your car, truck, or SUV.
Chrysler was one of the first manufacturers to offer wireless Internet as an option with its UConnect product, currently offered as an option on many vehicles. The same device is also available for use in any vehicle as the Autonet.
We installed the Autonet in a Honda belonging to our outside sales rep, but it can go into any car. It's a two-wire hook-up (power/ground), and can be placed under a seat or in a storage compartment. Once powered up, multiple users can surf the Net, check e-mail, download files, or do whatever they need to do online. It has a range of about 100 feet, so it can provide a wireless network away from the vehicle, too. It can be set up as a secured or unsecured network. You could also wire the unit up to a cigarette lighter-type plug and use it in multiple vehicles by plugging in to a 12v power supply.
The system works pretty well. It takes about 30 seconds to boot up and access the network. During this time, you see a flashing blue indicator light, which goes solid blue once an Internet connection is established. Then, you simply log on the way you would to any available wireless network.
The system uses a Verizon card, so speeds are as fast as any cellular Internet connection, and there is broad coverage. Service is activated through Autonet with a one-time $35 activation fee. Then, it's $29 per month for 1GB of data transfer, or $59 per month for a 5GB program. The 1GB program should suffice for most users. Autonet does not charge any taxes or monthly service fees, unlike most cellular providers.
Probably the biggest question I get about this is: "Why get an Autonet when I can get a wireless card for my notebook?" The answer is that Autonet might not be the best choice for everyone. But, if you need multiple users onboard, or if you need to set up a short-range wireless network, then the Autonet is a good way to go. Even with the purchase price of the unit, its lower plan rate (for most users) will break even and pull ahead with savings in time. I can see this as a great add-on for Vanpool vehicles, service industry vehicles, or for limo/bus transport where value-added services for customers are important.
The Autonet retails for $399.99, but there is a $100 mail-in rebate through the end of June. If you're looking for Internet access on the road, it's a choice worth considering.
John Haynes, aka Mr. Mobile of Al & Ed's Autosound, contributes articles to CNET from the shop floor about car stereo and electronics. Al & Ed's Autosound is a multistore professional installer of car audio systems and electronics.