Autonet Mobile and Volkswagen recently announced an agreement to equip the Volkswagen Routan with uconnect web – the in-car internet service already available to Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep owners. Now more than 600 Volkswagen dealerships in the United States will offer Routan owners the opportunity to add uconnect web, powered by Autonet Mobile, to their vehicle. This agreement will deliver the first internet service for Volkswagen vehicles.
Now when you buy a Volkswagen Routan, you can take the internet with you on the road. With Autonet Mobile, the Routan becomes a WiFi hotspot, delivering reliable and easy-to-use internet access. Now children in the back seat can IM, connect on Facebook, watch YouTube videos or play online games while the front seat passenger checks traffic, makes dinner reservations or listens to Internet radio.
“Volkswagen is committed to delivering vehicles that epitomize and enhance our digital customers’ lifestyle, and the Routan is a modern family vehicle” said Mark Barnes, COO of Volkswagen. “Internet access is a clear benefit to our customers. We’re excited to work with Autonet Mobile to bring connectivity to our Routan customers.”
The addition of Autonet Mobile brings the hottest accessory to Volkswagen’s newest family vehicle. Now Routan customers will have instant internet access anytime and anywhere. Monthly subscription plans start at a flat rate of $29, half the cost of a cell card, and Autonet Mobile is installed by the dealer.
“The Routan customer is looking for entertainment options beyond the traditional DVD player,” said Sterling Pratz, CEO of Autonet Mobile. “Consumers want to extend their living room lifestyle to the vehicle and want the ability to use internet-driven applications – gaming, email, IM, internet radio, and other entertainment and information services – while on the road. We’re thrilled to be a part of the revolution that is making the minivan the cool car to drive.”
A while back I wrote that Internet radios are an excellent gift idea for this Christmas. Internet radio is hot, and it’s sure to be something that they don’t already have. With that in mind, and in celebration of Cyber Monday, the largest online shopping day of the year, here’s a list of Internet radio devices that you might want to consider:
Logitech’s Squeezebox gets excellent reviews from several sources including Marketwatch and the Boston Globe. It’s basically a wifi receiver that connects to your stereo or speakers and can stream Internet radio as well as allow you to access music on your computer through your stereo system. Two versions, the Boom and Duet offer some different options and prices ranging from $300 to $400.
The Roku Soundbridge offers much the same functionality – I have one that’s several years old, and it’s connected to our stereo and accesses our computer wirelessly to enable us to stream through ITunes. Programming it was not very easy at that time, I suspect it’s improved a lot since then.
If you would prefer a true “tabletop” Internet radio, rather than a bridge that enables the stereo to stream via your computer, there are a bunch of choices as well. The Tangent Quattro is made by Reciva and interfaces with the Internet radio portal at www.reciva.com, which is often updated.
My personal favorite is the Chumby. The Chumby is a tabletop Internet radio that accesses your Internet connection and can stream any station as well as access other online content. For about $180 you can have one in your choice of four colors.
New people are discovering Internet radio everyday. But right now people have to think about how to connect, where to connect, or what to connect to in order to listen. When wireless access becomes easy and ubiquitous, Internet radio’s audience growth will really snowball and it will become a utility of everyday life – as broadcast radio is today.
A few recent announcements indicate that time is getting closer. Last week Sprint launched XOHM, their WiMax mobile broadband service, enabling people in Baltimore to have one internet connection that provides broadband service to their at-home modem as well as their laptop, pda, or whatever, wherever they are in the city. It’s like combining your cable or dsl account with a 3G broadband account.
Besides the fact that it’s more reliable than some other wifi networks, Sprint’s XOHM is revolutionary because it will not require dedicated equipment, as Verizon and AT&T do. According to ZDNet, “While the WiMAX network is very similar to the cellular network in its physical infrastructure, it was conceived from the ground up to be a pure IP network, built on open standards, and designed to be as open as the Internet itself. In that sense, WiMAX is simply a wireless on-ramp to the Internet.”
This is the kind of platform that will bring Internet radio to life. While it’s exciting that Pandora, Clear Channel, and lots of others are available now on IPhone, that’s still one device and AT&T customers only. XOHM opens that up to all devices, and provides a platform for invention of endless additional ways to use a ubiquitous broadband connection.
Right now it’s only in Baltimore, but next up are DC and Chicago. Sprint is merging XOHM with Clearwire to create a new WiMAX company, with backing from Intel, Google, Comcast. Philadelphia, Dallas/Fort Worth, Boston, and Providence, Portland, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Grand Rapids are on the list of markets to roll out.
Wifi in cars is widely discussed as the promised land for Internet radio, but what will it take and how much will it cost the consumer? Chrysler started selling cars with in-car wifi access and therefore in-car internet radio access in August. But anyone can purchase the router for their car and subscribe to the service directly from Autonet Mobile. The cost is $499 for the router and a $29 per month ISP subscription fee. Once installed, your car is its own wifi hotspot.
These costs are about twice the cost of putting a satellite radio in your car and paying that monthly subscription fee. My guess is that this spells more bad news for satellite radio, as I assume that consumers will choose internet access in their car, which allows browsing, gaming (for kids, not drivers), directions, and internet radio as well as other things. But it’s worth noting that satellite radio’s limited success is often attributed to the cost of dedicated hardware and subscription fees.
Internet radio in cars will not be free. To listen, you can buy a Jeep or other Chrysler car, add on the hotspot service, which Chrysler calls Mopar, but is also known as Autonet Mobile, or get the router installed and bring along your laptop to stream your favorite station. Great – but maybe a little involved, costly, and cumbersome at this stage.
In-car wifi may be a tipping point for internet radio, but it will have to come with greater ease of use than the current technology. We can see it with binoculars on the horizon, but we’re not there yet.