Lightning Review: Autonet 3G In-Car Wi-Fi RouterS

The Gadget: Autonet's in-car wi-fi router is the first to partner up with a major American car maker (Chrysler). It connects to EV-DO towers and lets you surf the internet without a USB dongle.

Lightning Review: Autonet 3G In-Car Wi-Fi RouterS

Lightning Review: Autonet 3G In-Car Wi-Fi RouterS

Lightning Review: Autonet 3G In-Car Wi-Fi RouterS

The Price: $500 (includes installation), plus $30/month for service (1 GB cap)

The Verdict: According to Autonet, the appeal to their service is that you're not limited to any single carrier's cell towers for a signal. Instead, they work as a middleman and allow you to connect to towers owned by Sprint, Verizon and Alltel. Their service is designed to seamlessly hop between towers and connect to the one offering the fastest speeds. Autonet says they also track fully your usage sessions, and as a result, will already have a solid idea of what the problem is if you call for support.

The device itself is about the same shape and size as Linksys' classic WRT54 router, except a bit slimmer and wider. It's intended to be bolted to the floor and connected to a car battery, though the freestanding model I tested came with adapters for the cigarette lighter and home outlets. There's also a mystery serial port, but none of the documentation makes any reference to it.

In areas with good EV-DO coverage, the router works pretty well. Once it's turned on an running, you connect to it like any WEP wi-fi network, and proceeds as expected. The router setup menu is pretty straightforward, allowing you to configure SSIDs, WEP keys, MAC filters, and a handful of radio/transmission settings.

Going back and forth between San Francisco and Fremont, I found speeds to be about what you'd expect from an EV-DO connection. Fast enough to browse standard web pages with ease, and satisfactory enough to stream media, such as music and flash videos. But it will not magically conjure up a signal in areas where EV-DO isn't so prevalent, so you should definitely check EVDOmaps to make sure you live or travel in an area with good service.

Occasionally (about every 10-15 minutes), there would be a 5 second hiccup in service, presumably while the connection hopped to another tower. It generally wasn't a big deal, but it did interrupt my Pandora stream, which was going from my iPod touch connected to a car stereo,

Users have complained about Autonet's lack of features for power users, such as no WPA encryption and port forwarding. Not having WPA encryption is totally valid to bitch about, and I was surprised it wasn't at least an option. As far as port forwarding options go, I don't think this router is intended for that type of crowd and I don't think it's that kind of device.

This is really meant for you to be able to check email, look up a map, get the latest news, and maybe download a few songs. And seeing as Autonet is going for the minivan/car rental market, I think simplicity was a goal when determining what functionality it would have. I don't think you're supposed to be playing WoW or downloading 20 torrents with the router. And with a 1GB cap, which stops service after you exceed the limit, it would be hard to do that anyways.

The bottom line is this: I think soccer moms and road warriors alike will glean some value from the device, which will help appease bratty kids or feelings of disconnectedness while on the road. But at $500 plus $30/month, this is not really for someone who plans to use it in a casual manner, or would like to use it more places than the car. If you prefer portability, you may want to look at the Cradlepoint router, but then you still need the USB 3G dongle and you don't have the freedom to switch between carrier towers.