Wireless LANs Get the Keys to the Car
Wireless LANs have already moved in with many families, and now Linksys Group and Zandiant Technologies want to give them the keys to the car.
The companies will work together to address a variety of applications of wireless LANs in cars, starting with a wireless-equipped MP3 music player demonstrated at the recent
Consumers could load music onto the player from a home PC and then listen to it using standard car stereo controls in some cars, according to the companies. However, the possibilities go far beyond that, according to Matthew McRae, director of broadband at Linksys, a network equipment maker in Irvine, California.
"It's a mobile storage solution that you can take with you when you travel," McRae said.
That same device, which could be located in the trunk or beneath a seat, could be used as a digital "briefcase" to carry files between home and office. At the office, as long as the car wasn't parked more than about 300 feet from the user's desk, he or she could access that data via an office wireless LAN.
In addition to a wireless LAN client, such a device also could be equipped with a
A car-based wireless LAN also would reach as far as 300 feet around the car, allowing users to take their wireless Internet access with them when they did work on field trips or sat in a restaurant. Drivers and passengers also could download content, such as music, from retail stores while parked outside, McRae said.
Most of those applications aren't likely to see the light of day until 2004 or 2005, because of both technology and service issues that need to be worked out. However, the system shown at CES is expected to ship this year and will lay the groundwork, he said.
"The product we're demonstrating could be a sleeper. It has all the hardware functionality it needs to do some of these other things," McRae said.
The player, which measures roughly 8 by 10 inches and about 1 inch tall, is installed in the trunk of a car and is equipped with an IEEE 802.11b wireless LAN interface, said Mo Kapila, manager of Zandiant's OEM business. Zandiant, in Lake Forest, California, is a spinoff of Clarion, which develops car electronics products.
After MP3 files were downloaded to the player from a home PC, drivers and passengers could play the music using the standard CD player controls on some car stereos, Kapila said.
Details of how the MP3 player will be brought to market are not yet final, but it probably will appear first as an add-on product that car owners can buy at an electronics store, Linksys' McRae said. In most cars equipped for installation of trunk-mounted CD changers, it should be able to use the existing cable that goes to the changer box. For other cars, a client device might be installed in the dash in place of an existing stereo system and FM used to transmit the signals from the player to the stereo.
The companies initially are looking to use 802.11b, at 11 megabits per second rather than the 54 mbps 802.11a standard, because 802.11b equipment is less expensive and uses less power, McRae said. By the time the product comes out, it may be equipped with
Heat, cold, and vibration can be much more severe in a car than indoors, so the MP3 player currently is expected to use more robust solid-state flash memory rather than a hard drive, McRae said. Some drives can withstand those conditions, but they are more expensive than conventional parts. In addition, a drive would provide room for more music, but it might be too hard to manage all that music through a dash-mounted control, McRae added.
User tests planned this year will help developers figure out what consumers want, McRae said.