Using Connected Car & RV Solutions
With the power of the internet, product manufacturers are busy adding connectivity to virtually everything - doorbells, pet feeders, toasters, laundry machines - you name it!
Naturally, this trend includes all kinds of vehicles from cars to boats to RVs.
Nomads who want internet connectivity on the road often build that capability by assembling a mobile internet arsenal from multiple solutions. But increasingly, auto and RV manufacturers are adding factory-installed options for internet access as standard or optional equipment.
While a one-stop shopping solution can simplify the research phase, for the serious mobile internet user, these solutions may have compromises that make them less than ideal as a home internet replacement.
Can connected vehicle options be a useful addition to a nomad's mobile internet arsenal?
This guide will help you answer that question. Like most aspects of mobile internet, the usefulness of a connected vehicle to you will depend on your specific needs and situation.
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What is a "Connected" Vehicle?
For the purposes of this guide, a connected vehicle is a car, RV, or boat with internet connectivity either built-in to the vehicle's systems or as an option available directly from the manufacturer.
Sometimes the connectivity is integrated into the vehicle's control systems, but can also simply be a method to give passengers internet access.
We also include third-party mobile internet devices specifically designed to be mated with an automobile's internal system via the car's OBD-II (OBD - On Board Diagnostic) port - a standard feature on almost every car built since 1996.
This is a rapidly changing and evolving market as manufacturers and internet providers design and produce increasingly integrated and advanced systems. This factor creates a lot of differences in terms of features and capabilities not only between vehicle manufacturers but also between models and model years.
Generally, the newer the vehicle the more advanced and integrated the features.
Connected vehicles provide two kinds of benefits:
- Internet Access: In vehicle Wi-Fi so that devices and passengers can access the internet, usually via a cellular connection.
- "Telematics" and safety features: Telematics for vehicles will usually combine GPS with onboard diagnostics and other sensors to provide detailed information about a vehicle's location, status, and performance. One example of this integration: a vehicle gets into a crash, sensors detect the crash and relay the information about the crash, including location, to an emergency service center, which can dispatch emergency services.
These options are becoming more mainstream as features on new vehicles and will likely become standard equipment on all vehicles over the next few years.
Connected Car Capabilities
Connected car systems are increasingly integrated into the vehicle's core electronics, safety and entertainment systems. These systems rely on an internet connection which is supplied by cellular-based carriers.
In the connected car market, there are no current standards. So features depend on the specific manufacturer, model and year. Each manufacturer has a name for their particular system, such as OnStar (for GM vehicles) and SYNC Connect (for Ford vehicles).
While integrated "infotainment" systems have been in cars for a while, options that included built-in internet access were limited and hit-or-miss up until the 2018 model year.
Starting with the 2019 models, connected car systems are more widely offered, but may be restricted to higher-end models and trim lines.
Connected cars can provide a wide variety of capabilities in addition to internet access. These capabilities can include:
- Internet access via an in-car Wi-Fi connection
- Emergency services (roadside assistance, 911, automated crash response, stolen vehicle disablement, and recovery)
- Local and/or remote vehicle diagnostics
- Driver monitoring (can provide alerts for speeding, severe braking/acceleration, etc.)
- Location services including tracking, routing, location history
- Entertainment options including integrated internet video for passengers and audio for the driver
Most vehicle Wi-Fi options advertise a 50-150 feet range for the WiFi signal. This means you can be near the vehicle and still get access - as long as the vehicle's systems are powered.
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Continuing this section, we go further into the current cellular carrier options, after market options and how these plans are best utilized outside of a vehicle.
RV makers are starting to integrate in connected solutions right into their rigs. This section overviews the current options up and coming.
The Downside of Integrated Systems
All of these new options sure do sound cool, but what's the downsides?
What's the status of keeping a boat online?
Connected vehicles show a lot of promise, especially going forward as cellular technology becomes more integrated into vehicle design.
For now, connected vehicles come with limitations that make them less than ideal as a home internet replacement solution.
They do offer value, however, and they can be a useful part of a mobile arsenal depending on your nomadic lifestyle and internet needs.
Further Reading / Related Guides:
Here are a few more links on this topic:
- Product Overview - Connected Car Options
- News Story - AT&T offers unlimited data for connected Cars
- News Story - AT&T and Airstream Rolling Out Unlimited & Unthrottled Mobile Hotspot Plan – With A Catch!
- News Story - Looking Ahead: Will 2019 Be The Year of the Smart & Connected RV?
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