“What a wonderful world it will be. What a glorious time to be free.” That’s how Steely Dan paid tribute to the future and the International Geophysical Year in 1976. Today, the future has caught up with us and it is a world where everyone is connected to the internet all the time, especially if we have a car with a built in WiFi hotspot. We can take selfies of ourselves pumping gas, eating a cheeseburger, or changing a diaper and share them with the world in less time than it take to type this sentence. How glorious is that?
More and more of today’s car come with WiFi hotspots built in so we can stay in touch with Twitter, SnapChat, Facebook, and Instagram while we drive. As cars take on more of the responsibility for driving, we will have more and more time to watch videos, check our e-mail, and preen for our ever adoring fans — if we are connected. But how much will all this wonderful connectivity cost us?
Recently, Jill Ciminillo, automotive editor for CNYCentral, a news site for central New York state, made a survey of the plans offered by several manufacturers and cell phone providers. Her advice? Try before you buy.
General Motors offers a 4G LTE hotspot in its Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC vehicles. In 2016, GM customers downloaded more than 4 million gigabytes of data — nearly double the total of the previous year. It partners with AT&T for the wireless connection to its cars. It can cost as little as $5 for one day of connectivity. A 10 gigabyte plan costs $40 a month. Current AT&T customers can add their car to their existing mobile sharing plan for $10 a month.
Volvo, BMW, and Audi also use AT&T. Plan prices are the same as they are for GM customers. Fiat Chrysler links up with Sprint for 3G connectivity. Daily, weekly, and monthly prices are $9.99, $19.99, and $49.99 respectively. Mercedes partners with Verizon. A 4G LTE hotspot is free for the first three months, $18 a month thereafter.
Ciminillo says not all plans work everywhere. Sprint coverage is great in Chicago, she notes, but may be less successful in LA where AT&T and Verizon are the dominant companies. During a recent roadtrip from Chicago to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, she was able to work online easily all the way from the back seat of a Chevy Malibu. Her husband, who prefers a PC and Android equipment, was unable to connect during the same trip. In the end, he reverted to using the hotspot on his phone.
Having tested 4G LTE hotspots in a Volvo S90 and a Chrysler Pacifica, she says the system in the Malibu is best. The ones in Volvo and the Chrysler were “glitchy,” she says. Her best advice is, when taking a test drive, check out how well the available hotspot works for you and your mobile devices at the same time. If there is a free trial available, take advantage of it and see if the service meets your needs and expectations before signing up for any long term commitment.
A built in hotspot will be more than a convenience in future cars, it will be a necessity for most people. But keep an eye on those prices. Some of us remember when basic cable costs just $20 a month. In many areas, it’s ten times that amount today. Car makers and wireless providers expect to make a lot of money from digital connectivity. Make sure you are getting everything you are paying for.