Let’s assume that you have not purchased a car in the last year or so. If you don’t think about it very hard, in the back of your mind you might believe that the cars that are now coming off the assembly line, or at least those coming off the assembly line within the higher half of the overall spectrum, support Wi-Fi. If someone were to ask you that as a question you would probably want to respond, “Of course they do.” In this day and age of accelerated Wi-Fi hotspot and access point growth, how could they not? Right?
Well, in fact it turns out that this is not the case at all.
IMS Research, which was recently acquired by IHS, estimates that Wi-Fi attach rates in North America and Western Europe are still relatively low. The research firm claims that to date only a small number of manufacturers have announced the inclusion of Wi-Fi either as a standard in-car option, or even as an optional extra capability. Audi is one of the first to do so, but others are currently rare indeed. However, it is likely that Wi-Fi will follow a similar trend to Bluetooth, meaning over the next seven years attach rates in new cars will ramp up quickly.
Historically, Wi-Fi has not been considered for in-car applications. However, several factors are now coming into play that are beginning to create the foundation for significant new opportunities for Wi-Fi automotive applications. Along these lines, IMS has delivered a new research report that forecasts the market for Wi-Fi in original equipment manufacturer (OEM) automotive applications will likely increase by a factor of 8x over the next seven years in both North America and Western Europe.
First, Wi-Fi has of course now transitioned from being primarily a PC networking technology to a more ubiquitous connectivity solution, one that now has a strong presence in a broad range of consumer electronics. Smartphones of course lead the way, but eReaders, tablets, portable games consoles and portable media players are also among the many consumer electronic gadgets that now incorporate Wi-Fi. The ubiquity of Wi-Fi will expand naturally to include the automobile dashboard.
In addition, the introduction of Wi-Fi Direct (Wi-Fi with the ability to make peer-to-peer connections) provides the auto industry with just the technology tool it needs to easily enable Wi-Fi to be used for in-car applications – these applications are not merely about Wi-Fi networking in the old sense. This has created an opportunity for specific automotive applications. The most likely Wi-Fi in-car use cases are in-car hotspots, wireless screen duplication, tethering, wireless car diagnostics and wireless software upgrading.
Secondly, Bluetooth as a technology, while once promising and in use in numerous cars, has not kept pace with other wireless technology. High speed Bluetooth for example never materialized. This leaves a wide gap in the automotive industry between expectations ad reality, and WI-FI can now step in to completely eliminate the gap. Ubiquitous smartphone Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi direct have provided the missing pieces. They are now in place and it is inevitable that the auto manufacturers will quickly move to deploy Wi-Fi.
Filomena Berardi, IMS senior analyst and author of the IMS “The Wireless Car” report, notes the followig: “The uptake of Wi-Fi in vehicles will be fairly aggressive. OEMs now see great opportunities for in-car applications. In addition, the recent Wi-Fi Alliance announcement regarding Wi-Fi Miracast is very exciting. Some in the industry see this being used in conjunction with MirrorLink for wireless screen duplication. There’s even talk of using Wi-Fi for camera modules and many other interesting in-car applications. These will all further drive demand by OEMs to include Wi-Fi as standard or as an easy to install optional extra. All in all, the future for Wi-Fi in the car is very promising.”
Miracast, we will note here, is a peer-to-peer wireless standard created by the Wi-Fi Alliance that allows users to echo a mobile phone from a given manufacturer, for example, onto a TV from a different manufacturer, share a laptop screen with a third party conference room projector, or watch a live TV program from a home cable box on an iPad or other tablet. The important key to the Miracast technology is that it doesn’t require access to a Wi-Fi network as a go-between. Rather, the Wi-Fi connections are established (through Wi-Fi Direct) directly between two Miracast-certified devices.
Mirrorlink is new software and technology that allows mobile phones to connect directly with automobile dashboard screens to mirror the phone screen on the car display.
Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli