Exclusive First Test: Cadillac CTS In-Car Wi-Fi

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If you can imagine taking the wireless router you may have in your house and putting it in your car, that’s pretty much what’s going on here. It even looks like a regular old router, though it would be installed out of sight in a CTS’ trunk. The only difference here is it gets its incoming signal not from cable or DSL but from cellular networks, then puts it back into the air in the customary home/coffee-shop/airport format.

I connected to the CTS with my Cars.com-issue ThinkPad as I would at any of those other hotspots and, voila, I had a working browser. I fired up a Cars.com video to see how it handled the download, and it took a while to buffer — about 30 seconds — but then it played through with only one pause midway. (Hey, this Kelsey Mays is dynamite!)

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That wouldn’t bode well for streaming video, which I think is one of the best uses of in-car Internet. So many TV shows are now online that you could view the latest show on a large laptop screen in the backseat rather than on a small flip-down screen in a minivan. And any number of other people could do their own viewing or browsing on separate devices. Unfortunately, Hulu.com, the popular TV show site, streams at 480 kbps or 700 kbps, so outside of 3G range you’d probably be out of luck. My home computer struggles to run streaming high-def (say, “Lost” on ABC.com) at 54 Mbps, so I wouldn’t hold out hope for that in any mobile circumstance.

Still, I think this is the right approach. Good for browsing, internet radio or whatever, in a more usable form than an iPhone or BlackBerry. Cadillac is charging $499 for the hardware and $29 per month for cellular service and 1 gb per month (a yearlong contract is required, and you can’t combine it with an existing contract). If you want to use up to 5 gb per month, it’s $59. On the upside, if you wire more than one car, you can move the router from one to the other. As we’ve pointed out in our earlier coverage of the Autonet device, a standard laptop wireless internet card from a 3G carrier like AT&T would work in almost an identical fashion for much less money. It just wouldn’t be hardwired to the car.

Don’t want to buy a CTS to get this tech? Here’s the untold story: The system, its service and its pricing all compare to those from Chrysler’s Mopar division and from Autonet Mobile directly. In other words, you could get everything described above in virtually any car you choose, but Cadillac’s calling attention to it as a dealer option can only help spread the word.

2009|Cadillac|CTS

Photo of Joe Wiesenfelder
Former Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder, a Cars.com launch veteran, led the car evaluation effort. He owns a 1984 Mercedes 300D and a 2002 Mazda Miata SE. Email Joe Wiesenfelder

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