Add WiFi to the list of options on Chrysler vehicles

To be offered on new cars in September, it relies on 3G

With Wi-Fi already available in many coffee shops and coming soon to some airplanes, it was only a matter of time before a US carmaker started offering Wi-Fi access for automobiles.

Thursday, Chrysler unveiled UConnect Web, an accessory that provides an in-car hot spot that will be available from Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealers starting in September, according to Chrysler's blog site.

The UConnect Web, a wireless router, will connect to a 3G cellular signal allowing passengers in the car to connect to the Internet with Wi-Fi capable devices, including laptops, handhelds, music players and cameras, according to Keefe Leung, manager of advanced connectivity strategies at Chrysler in a video accompanying the blog.

Although Chrysler stressed that the UConnect Web is aimed at passengers, nothing prevents a driver from using the Wi-Fi access as well, causing some concern about another potential distraction for drivers. Already, drivers can be distracted by car radios, cell phones, GPS devices and other hardware, analysts noted.

"I don't think driver distraction by Wi-Fi is a major issue," said analyst Craig Mathias of The Farpoint Group. "It's up to the driver to know his limitations for being distracted. It's like Dirty Harry said, 'You have to know your limitations.'"

The suggested price of the UConnect Web will be US$449, plus about $35 to $50 for installation. Chrysler said Autonet Mobile will offer wireless Internet account service for $29 a month.

Mathias said price will be an issue for some customers, as well as deciding whether it is better to have a Wi-Fi hot spot in the car instead of using a cellular data card for laptop. A cellular data card in a laptop means you can roam beyond the car. "There's no single answer for what's best and it depends on the user," he said. "With so many choices in technology, it is becoming baffling."

Leung said in the video that broadband cellular cards only really work in laptops, but with a Wi-Fi hot spot, a user can connect a wide range of smaller devices, including Wi-Fi capable cameras and music players.

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