WiFi on wheels: How to turn your car into a hotspot


  • Technology
  • Sunday, 20 Sep 2020

With the right contract or gadget for your cigarette lighter, you can set up your car to deliver Internet to smartphones, tablets and laptops. — Christin Klose/dpa

There are plenty of reasons to be connected to the Internet while in the car, even if it's just to stream movies and music while on the go. But what's the best way to make it happen?

When it comes to getting your car online, "the Internet connection usually works best with the manufacturers' on-board solutions," says Holger Ippen, a specialist who writes for Auto Zeitung magazine.

In that case, a SIM card is integrated into the car and the vehicle's own antenna is used, something which significantly improves reception.

“Today, all newer vehicles are factory-fitted with a SIM card for emergency e-calls. So it's no great expenditure for the manufacturer to make this mobile data connection usable for entertainment offers,” Ippen says.

Generally, car owners are free to then use services such as real-time traffic data, weather forecasts or petrol station searches for a certain number of years. If you want more, you have to pay, Ippen says.

A wireless network for the car can also be possible via an additional integrated SIM, depending on the car manufacturer.

"The disadvantage of these offers is often that the customer can't choose the mobile operator themselves and the tariff selection is very limited," says telecommunications specialist Markus Weidner.

That's because few manufacturers rely on roaming SIMs that can log into different cellular networks. And with most systems it's not possible to use your own SIM card.

Another way to network the car is with a mobile LTE hotspot. "You can connect them to the cigarette lighter, for example, and they work like a small router," Ippen says.

Equipped with a SIM card, these mini-routers can manage up to 150 Mbit/s and deliver Internet to up to 10 devices.

However, one disadvantage is that you have to live with cables inside the car. Another is that it's not really possible to improve the reception.

The same applies if you use your own smartphone as a hotspot. “As a rule, there is no access to the antenna built into the car, and hardly any smartphone still offers the option of connecting an external antenna,” Weidner says.

Anyone who uses their smartphone as a hotspot should therefore position it as optimally as possible inside the car.

“Smartphones have the best reception when they are placed on the front of the dashboard, directly under the windshield,” says Peter Richert, professor of communications technology at the Muenster University of Applied Sciences in Germany.

Overall, the signal inside a car is dampened a bit compared to outside the vehicle, but not as much as is often assumed, the expert says. – dpa

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