Subaru Outback to double as Wi-Fi hot spot

Powered by Autonet Mobile, the yuppie-friendly mini-SUV now has an option for a 3G Internet subscription inside the car.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read

The Subaru Outback, a "crossover" SUV and yuppie icon that seems naked without a ski rack on top and several Whole Foods grocery bags in the backseat, is now offering wireless connectivity with Autonet Mobile in-car Internet service for its 2011 incarnation.

This means the Outback is the latest in a parade of models to feature built-in Internet connectivity. The next generation of Ford's Sync service, a multimedia system in partnership with Microsoft, can hook up to USB modems. And Autonet Mobile has already debuted as an option in some Cadillac vehicles and in Chrysler's gimmicky "Web Edition" cars a few years back.

"Subaru Mobile Internet easily allows users to check e-mail, surf the Web or listen to Internet radio and even stream video and post to social networking sites," a release stated Friday. "Outback passengers can check weather and traffic, download hiking trails, and even reserve a campsite while they're on the road."

The release gently reminds all readers that this is designed for passengers while the car is in motion, because even those aspiring to Bear Grylls-like levels of under-pressure multitasking shouldn't attempt to download trail maps while they're driving.

The Autonet Mobile service in the 2011 Outback will be a $499 option, plus a $35 activation fee and $29 monthly subscription. (There's a one-year minimum subscription, but Subaru said in the release that it will give away three months for free.) It's a 3G connection and can handle up to 10 users in a range of about 150 feet.

Given the availability of fast cellular data connections and 3G cards for laptops, in-car Wi-Fi doesn't have quite the thunderous appeal that, say, in-flight Wi-Fi does. But there are a few areas where it makes a ton of sense--Internet radio, for example, or for a group of four people on a lengthy road trip. And perhaps car-tech junkies can consider it a small bit of gratification as they wait ever-so-patiently for the day when their SUVs can sprout a pair of wings.