How can you use in-car Internet?

Soon enough, the cars we drive will be more than conversation starters, status symbols or ways to get from one point to the next. Instead, theyll be the next platform in a world gone wired. According to the technology research firm iSuppli, 25 percent of cars will be connected to the Internet by 2015 [source:Barry].

Todays connected cars physically access the Internet in several ways. Some cars, such as those equipped with theFord Sync system, tap into the Internet connection on a drivers smartphone or a wirelessUSB adapter. Others, such as the 2011 Audi A8, use a separate data connection built into the car that accesses the Internet through a phone companys data service. There are aftermarket products to enable Internet access in cars as well — the Autonet Mobile router connects to the Internet through a 3G or 4G cellular connection and allowsWi-Fi-enabled devicesin and near the car to go online [source:Autonet Mobile].

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Why are carmakers pushing for Internet connectivity in their cars? Its not just consumer demand — its the car manufacturers. Cunningham says the nature of auto development cycles means the latest cars tend to lag behind the latest technology. Carmakers have been struggling with the fact that they want to put new technology in their cars, but they cant keep up because (by the end of) a five-year development cycle, the technology they put in their car could be four or five years old [source: Cunningham]. By enabling their cars to access the Internet, adding the latest services and features requires a simple software update — not a new lease.

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In-car Internet might be the way of the future, but going online behind the wheel isnt anything new. In 1997, Toyota launched Monet, a service that allowed drivers tocheck their e-mailand news headlines, and access their home computers [source:Laterman]. Rival manufacturers rolled out their own automobile Internet services soon after [source:Bartz]. In the United States,satellite radio providersbegan transmittingtraffic reportsweatherupdates and other data to their systems by the mid-2000s. Still, connected cars — automobiles tied into the Internet and other communications networks — are a relatively new phenomenon. The idea of connected cars is just starting to take off [in 2011], says Wayne Cunningham, senior editor of the Web site CNET Car Tech.

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