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San Francisco startup unveils device able to create a broadband hot spot in your car

Thursday, January 04, 2007 by: Ben Kage
Tags: Wi-Fi, hot spot, wireless internet

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(NewsTarget) When Autonet Mobile Inc. releases it's new Wi-Fi/3G cellular device in March, you'll no longer have to hunt for broadband hotspots in order to use your computer's wireless broadband connection.

According to spokespersons for the San Francisco-based startup, the device plugs into a car's cigarette lighter adapter and turns the whole vehicle into a wireless internet hot spot and is as reliable as a home router.

"Our thought was to turn the car into a hot spot so people could have the same experience in their car as in their home or office," said Autonet Mobile CEO Sterling Pratz.

The system will probably be available in rental cars before going on the market. Avis recently told the New York Times that it plans to offer the system for about $11 extra a day as soon as it becomes available. Pratz said he couldn't confirm that, but said the device should go on sale to the public sometime in the spring. Pratz said corporate IT divisions would probably get the most use out of the device, because it would mean mobile workers would not need to hunt down Wi-Fi hotspots in order to keep in contact with their home office.

Cost for the device is projected at about $399, and will work on either Sprint or Verizon wireless services, automatically choosing the best available connection. Service will cost about $49 a month.

According to Pratz, users will be able to gain access on about 95 percent of U.S. roads, but he admitted that consumers' Wi-Fi-ready gadgets -- which include most laptops and other mobile devices such as smart phones -- wouldn't always get the best possible connection. Ideally, consumers will be able to access EV-DO connections at speeds of about 500 kilobits per second to 1 megabit per second, but in some areas the devices will quickly fall back on 1xRTT connections with speeds closer to 128 kilobits per second.

Pratz also said the system is able to avoid interference from other Wi-Fi networks since the device is never more than five feet away, he said, the intensity of the Wi-Fi in the car prevents it from jumping networks. It also has built-in security. The link between the system and Autonets' network operation center is encrypted using a system akin to a virtual private network, and Pratz said it was also compatible with corporate VPNs. Traveling speeds are unlikely to be an issue, said Pratz, as he claimed the system had been tested at highway speeds and much higher.

"I was with a partner and we were going 120 miles per hour and it worked just fine," said Pratz, who is a former racecar driver. "(My partner) didn't like it too much, though. He was running a network test and looked up and saw that it was working well but let me know he didn't like going that fast."


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