802.11 In the Car

Sunnyvale, Calif. chipmaker Atheros said this week that it has begun a partnership with Mobilecast Telematics of Tokyo, Japan. Together the two are going to push for use of Atheros-based Wi-Fi for two-way communications with cars.

“This is one of the first rollouts of Wi-Fi in telematics ,” says Colin Macnab, vice president of marketing and business development at Atheros. He says a couple of years ago his company did a telematics demo in the parking lot during the Networld+Interop show, driving around in a Mercedes with an access point as it handed-off signals from AP to AP. He says this deal “will lead to real rollout of products.”

The partnership revolves around building Wi-Fi functions — featuring Atheros Super AG speed boost — into the Mobilecast Automotive Gateway, a vehicular router. They also plan to create “hot-area” business service solutions, basically applications that can be applied to the products so drivers and passengers can take advantage of the technology while traveling on the high ways.

One of the first deployments will be along the 60km highway from Tokyo to the Narita Airport (formerly New Tokyo International). Macnab says it’ll serve as a demonstration of the abilities of the service. It’s a system he says is much more suited to high-density environments, with busy highways.

The first customers of the Wi-Fi telematics will likely be government municipalities, everything from police and fire fighters to those departments simply studying traffic patterns. They can use the data from the service to better understand how cars behave in flows, and can use the service to manage the traffic better.

Atheros is working with a number of large car manufacturers in the US, Europe and Asia to get this technology into other vehicles. Macnab anticipates it will “start in high-end vehicles but could make it out of luxury and into every vehicle on the road.”

Mobilecast is sponsoring a racing team for Formula Nippon, and will install a Super AG terminal into their race car to test the WLAN technology while the vehicle is in motion.

At N+I this week, Atheros has been busily promoting other design wins for its chipset, including six new NEC laptops in Japan, the latest Vivato Indoor Switch , and the new Mobility Point APs from Trapeze Networks.

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