Connected cars are automobiles with built-in cellular data connections designed to power a range of services including in-car WiFi connectivity. These options are becoming mainstream features on new vehicles and will likely become standard equipment on all new vehicles going forward.
Because these systems rely on outside internet connections, car manufacturers are partnering with cellular equipment and service providers to supply cellular-based data solutions. There are no existing standards, so features and cellular plan availability will depend on the specific vehicle's model and year.
Vehicles with this feature come equipped with equipment and services provided by manufacturer connectivity and telematics services, such as OnStar, Entire, SYNC Connect, and others, backed with data plans available from the carriers, primarily AT&T.
This is a rapidly changing and evolving market.
There are also aftermarket options available from manufacturers as well as cellular carriers. These typically are devices that plug into a vehicle's diagnostic (OBD-II) port that can provide a limited set of features, including 4G-LTE based WiFi connectivity.
Connected Cars Overview
Connected cars can provide a wide variety of capabilities, depending on the manufacturer, model year, and vehicle options. These capabilities can include:
- Internet access via an in-car WiFi connection
- Emergency services (roadside assistance, 911, automated crash response, stolen vehicle recovery)
- Vehicle and driver monitoring & diagnostics
- Entertainment options
Most connected car options require a data plan with a compatible cellular provider, though some systems, particularly in older vehicles, are designed to pair to a smartphone or other cellular device, and use the phone's data to enable the connectivity features.
Connected Car options are intended for use while the vehicle is in operation. WiFi capabilities, depending on the vehicle, will only work while the car is running or while the ignition/accessory switch is on or power is otherwise supplied to the equipment.
Even though RVers, in particular, might choose a toad or tow vehicle that includes a Connected Car option, this limitation makes Connected Cars a non-optimal choice as a primary home internet replacement on the road.
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We tested general connected car capabilities utilizing a 2020 Subaru Ascent with an AT&T data plan. The details are in the member section below.
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Requires purchasing a new or recent model year vehicle and then activating service via the partnered provider.
Mobile hotspot devices are small, self-contained units that receive a cellular data signal and transform it into an internet connection. They are a cellular modem and router combined. Most can create their own personal Wi-Fi network.
They are typically designed with a specific cellular carrier in mind and require a suitable cellular data plan of their own to operate. You might see them called Jetpacks (Verizon's term for them) or MiFi (Inseego's name for them).
Here's a quick video going over the features of a hotspot, and what makes one better than another:
The guides below have been hand-picked to help further your education about selecting mobile hotspots and best utilizing them in your mobile internet setup.