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The Holy Grail: getting Internet radio into your car (Part I)

Everybody knows that the trick to getting Internet radio past the early adopter crowd and into the ears of Ma and Pa Kettle means getting into it into cars. Commercial broadcasting seems ready for that to happen. How do we know? The National Association of Broadcasters sent us a profile of Autonet Mobile.

Autonet calls itself the “first wireless internet service provider designed for your car.” It creates a Wi-Fi “hot spot” that pretty much turns your auto into an Internet cafe via a 3g wireless connection. The company says it runs over the “nation’s largest 3g network,” but doesn’t say which one that is . . . presumably Verizon?

Anyway, the car is the Holy Grail, Internet radio wise. The courageous are hooking up iPhones to their FM receivers . But everybody knows that the true mass audience for streaming radio doesn’t come until Mr. and Mrs. Luddite can do it real easy.

Autonet has still has a big problem. It’s expensive. Almost 500 USD a copy and 29 a month for a 1GB plan. 59 for 5GB. And if it runs like 5GB Verizon does on my Blackberry, it may be kinda slow. I have to wait quite a while before the next tune on my Pandora app fires up.

The other sticky wicket the company faces is that it has partnered with Chrysler, which has been sloughling off auto-dealers almost as fast as California is dumping school teachers. But their search engine indicates that plenty of dealers are selling this thing—a whole boatload of them in Los Angeles, for example. And it looks like the outfit has some Toyota dealers as well.

So we’ll see where this goes. In the short run one can expect the pioneer crowd to drive off bridges while surfing the Web on the freeway. In the long run, as prices come down and the economy comes back up, maybe this is one more step towards bringing streaming audio to drive time.


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2 Responses to The Holy Grail: getting Internet radio into your car (Part I)

  1. funferal June 15, 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    That’s crazy pricing. XM’s ‘everything’ package is $13 (they throw in the ‘best of Sirius’ for an extra $4.04 – I’m sure those extra 4 cents add up). Sure, there are about 3 times as many people listening to webcasts as satellite – but considering that most webcast users are doing so on their employer’s dime, and that it involves little more than firing up an extra browser window, or opening iTunes, I’m imagining there’s a fair overlap between those who would go to the trouble and expense to subscribe to satellite and the potential subscriber pool for in-car webcasting.

    Given that satellite has been around for several years, you’re going to need incentive pricing, to move people over, or some ‘must have’ content. Podcasting is already available for non-live public affairs/talk content (and capturing its small slice of market share). Satellite does a good job for those looking for slickly formatted music. What’s the ‘must have’ content that’s going to drag people away from free over-the-air or these other existing platforms?

    Of course, the pricing reflects the disadvantage that webcasting has over broadcast – the lack of economies of scale. If Autonet had sufficient funds behind it, you might expect discount pricing to attract initial customers, but given the fact that costs will scale with market share, there’s actually little incentive to do so. Which indicates that $39/$60 is probably seen as the medium-term cost of these plans (given the limited bandwidth available on wireless networks). Cheaper bandwidth on the internet proper might provide some relief, or migration to new generations of wireless protocol – but remember that those protocols would need to improve efficiency faster than the growth in spectrum/traffic demand in order to bring prices down substantially.

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