Make Your Car an Office on Wheels

In the Carport

In the Carport
As cellular providers build out their 3G networks by year-end and more hardware vendors exploit that availability, you'll also be able to wander as widely as Coffey. You can already find 400Kbps-to-700Kbps service in more than 200 metro areas, with 100Kbps--plus speeds pretty much everywhere in between. Bandwidth will increase and prices will fall next year as Mobile WiMAX (802.16e) and other multi-megabit-per-second networks like Flash/OFDM come into their own.

Your telecomputing gear won't need to change much. At most, you may want laptop, phone or printer/fax/copier versions that fit your car's ergonomics and connectivity options--or maybe accessories that make it easier to dock and undock your tools as you dash in and out of your mobile office. The other necessary piece of equipment is a short-range wireless network in and around your car.

You may soon see more Wi-Fi/3G router combinations. But fully half of all automobile brands are already building 1Mbps Bluetooth connectivity into at least some of their models, says Phil Magney, co-founder and principal analyst of Telematics Research Group, a research and data firm in Minneapolis. Carmakers have long design cycles, and Bluetooth was settled on before the arrival of 480Mbps Wireless USB. But Bluetooth is fast enough to connect digital entertainment systems to widely available Bluetooth-enabled phones and computers, says Magney.

New models let you voice-dial a docked cell phone or choose a number from an automatically synced contact list in your car's entertainment system. Incoming calls automatically mute music on the radio and can be answered using a steering wheel button. In-dash information displays are designed for safe access to in-vehicle communications and navigation systems. At some point, maps, directions and various menu options could be transparent images on your windshield. GPS-based navigation is on its way to becoming standard automobile equipment, says Magney, as are satellite radio and connections to iPods and other MP3 players.

By the way, if you're driving a late-model car, you're already piloting a computer on wheels that electronically controls braking, steering and other major systems. Digital entertainment systems are adding DVDs, LCDs, and magnetic and flash drives to the cabin. This time next year, says Magney, we'll see car-top antenna packages with various combinations of "cellular, GPS, Wi-Fi and WiMAX-you name it."

We really don't have that far to travel before your car will be outfitted just about as well as your office or home.

Road Requirements

  • Belkin MediaPilot: Three-piece wireless USB keyboard; built-in mouse pad can be programmed to control software applications and audio/video devices. Street price: $100
  • Kensington Technology Group Laptop Desktop USB: Docking platform displays laptop at eye level; 4 USB 2.0 ports maintain connections to keyboard, mouse, printer and wireless devices. Street price: $80
  • Lind Electronics Power Conversion: Auto adapters for mobile electronics. Street price: Varies depending on manufacturer
  • Mini-box.com VoomPC: VIA C3 processor-based PC uses your car's power supply for Windows-compatible storage, bus and wireless connectivity. Street price: $299 to $399
  • OmniWav Mobile WavBoard: Cellular/Wi-Fi router downloads at 144Kbps to 700Kbps or faster over Verizon's EV-DO/1xRTT network. Street price: $979; $60 monthly for cell service.
Mike Hogan is Entrepreneur's technology editor.
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