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Car Wi-Fi shipments projected to soar

SAN FRANCISCO—Shipments of built-in car Wi-Fi systems are set to soar by more than 40 fold by 2017, as automakers increasingly view wireless connectivity as a key competitive differentiator, according to market research firm iSuppli Corp., which is now part of business intelligence provider IHS Inc.

Worldwide automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM) shipments of Wi-Fi systems will rise to 7.2 million units in 2017, up from just 174,000 in 2010, according to iSuppli's forecast

According to Stacey Oh, an analyst and regional manager for Asia automotive research at iSuppli, major OEMs are noticeably incorporating Wi-Fi system into new-model releases. "Whereas Wi-Fi was an aftermarket accessory in the past, OEMs now are touting it as a key offering," Oh said.

On Monday (Nov. 22), rival market research firm In-Stat issued a report that found that cars will increasingly become mobile hot spots, generating Wi-Fi chip revenues of $100 million by 2015. The wireless autos will make up a drop in the bucket of what In-Stat anticipates will be a billion unit market for Wi-Fi chips by 2012.

ISuppli (El Segundo, Calif.) noted that Ford Motor Co. is turning its vehicles into Wi-Fi hot spots with the next generation of its Sync in-car connectivity system. MyFord is able to incorporate in-car Wi-Fi connectivity, powered by any customer’s existing USB mobile broadband modem, reducing cost for the consumer and the OEM and requiring less space in the vehicle for a modem, iSuppli said.

Meanwhile, European OEMs are taking a different route, iSuppli said. Marvell Technology and Harman Automotive in August announced integrated Wi-Fi connectivity via Marvell Mobile Hotspot technology, with the 2010 Audi A8 as the first vehicle on the market to feature the factory-installed mobile hotspot, iSuppli said.

"Wi-Fi gives OEMs a competitive advantage," Oh said. "Staying connected is important to users and can improve the overall in-vehicle experience. And as Sync has elevated Ford’s image as a cutting-edge technology brand, OEMs probably want their brands to be associated with Wi-Fi to at least be relevant in this connected era."

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