Broadband in the car: revolution or epic fail?

Mobile broadband has many benefits. From the convenience of checking e-mail on the road, to streaming videos at your mate's place, the possibilities are endless.

Up until now though, we haven’t heard too much about broadband in the car. Is this set to change?

Last month, we took a comprehensive look at the world’s first in-car PC. This impressive piece of equipment is basically a fully blown PC the size of a standard double-DIN head unit, designed to fit snugly in your car's dashboard.

Its versatility, like a regular PC's, is quite impressive. It boasts all the functionality of a regular car stereo, has a built-in GPS, mobile phone integration via Bluetooth, multimedia playback and even optional automotive diagnostic capabilities.

But the one aspect that caught my eye was the mobile broadband factor. By using a standard USB Internet modem from any of the current mobile broadband providers, your car can quickly become an Internet hub. You can send and receive e-mails, browse the Web, check the weather and look up traffic information.

It’s pretty simple to do. When the unit is installed in your car, you can connect a USB hub and have it wired to your glove box (as an example). Then just plug in the USB modem and away you go.

Of course, many of you are probably turning your noses up already. Who the hell needs to use the Internet in the car, right?

Sure, you don’t need to browse the Internet in your car. You don’t need to update your Facebook status, chat to your mate on MSN, send e-mails or check the eBay listing you’ve been following for days. But hey, just because you don’t need something, doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty cool.

More importantly, Internet access in your car can enable some pretty useful features too. For instance, sending your vehicle's diagnostics information to your dealer, enabling them to check how your car is performing. Armed with this information, you can effortlessly book your car in for a service without picking up the phone.

PCs aren’t the only method of accessing the Internet while in your car. Chrysler in the US has announced it plans to equip new cars with wireless Internet access, while BMW’s ConnectedDrive System provides Internet access but only while the vehicle is stopped. Neither of these companies is planning to release these features in Australia, though. Locally, Pioneer has stated that it intends to further develop its in-car devices, which should eventually see Internet access available.

The biggest issue is obviously safety, as gadgets in the car can be a major distraction. But if companies continue to develop technology, there’s no doubt that in-car Internet will eventually become mainstream.