Chrysler Rolls Out U-connect

We take a look at Chrysler's new bundle of high-tech applications, all under the name uconnect, such as the in-car Wi-Fi access point.

Chrysler announced today that it will now bundle innovative consumer technologies under one umbrella name – “connect.”

A bundle of high-tech applications, fashionably spelled with undercase lettering, are included under the uconnect umbrella. Perhaps the most unique is Chrysler’s in-car Wi-Fi access point, called uconnect Web, that allows passengers to e-mail, download music, play games, or look at photos and videos. It will be offered on ’09 models as a dealer-installed aftermarket item through Mopar and uses a cellular-connected mobile router from Autonet.

A variety of functions are available through uconnect – Uconnect phone, uconnect tunes, uconnect gps, uconnect studios and uconnect web.

  • uconnect phone: Uses Bluetooth® technology to provide voice-controlled wireless communication between the occupants’ compatible mobile phones and the vehicle’s onboard receiver. New for 2009, the hands-free system automatically downloads up to 1,000 phone book entries from supported phones. Part of uconnect phone on select Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles is an iPod interface, which allows an iPod to be plugged into the vehicle’s sound system.
  • uconnect tunes: A 30-gigabyte hard drive for songs (either MP3, AAC or WMA file formats), as well as photos and movies can be displayed on the screen for entertaining passengers when the vehicle is in Park (as permitted by the state regulations).
  • uconnect gps: Combines the features of uconnect phone and uconnect tunes with navigation and real-time traffic. The system includes an integrated voice recognition system and touch screen for easy operation.
  • uconnect studios: A SIRIUS Backseat TV, featuring three channels of family TV programming, and optional SIRIUS Satellite Radio. The system can be operated from the rear-seat entertainment unit or from the radio head unit.
  • uconnect web: Provides high-speed data transfer and flexibility, combining WiFi and cellular connectivity. The system transforms the vehicle into a “hot spot” to deliver the Internet directly to the vehicle, for instant access to Web sites, e-mail, personalized music, online gaming, photo albums, and more. Chrysler plans to offer aftermarket in-vehicle “hot-spot” wireless Internet capability through Mopar® for Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles.

The cost of the hardware/router is $449, not including a $50 installation with monthly charges $29 per month in 12-, 24- and 36-month-long service plans plus a $35 activation fee. It uses existing 3G and 2.5G cellular networks with download speeds between 400-800 Kbps/sec and upload speeds average 400 Kbps.

Of course cellular providers can also sell you a laptop card and data plan, but the monthly rate is much higher, $60 a month (with two-year contract). The advantage is you could then plug your cellular card into either a mobile router (such as a $250 Cradlepoint, Kyocera, Linksys) or your laptop (when out of the car). Uconnect’s integrated features, rugged Autonet router, and lower monthly costs may be a compelling package for many motorists.

Last year, Ford Motor Co. launched Sync, which allows drivers to use spoken commands to control mobile devices, but doesn’t provide Web access. Their sync communications product, made by Microsoft, allows consumers hands-free access to music and cellphone calls.

Ford vehicles equipped with Microsoft’s Sync offer access to telematics services similar to some of those of General Motors’ OnStar, explains RCR News. The data are encoded by software provided by Airbiquity, a Seattle company that already provides so-called “in-band modem” technology to OnStar and other telematics providers, but so far does not offer mobile web access.

Ford vehicles equipped with Microsoft’s SYNC are now available on the Ford Edge, Focus, Fusion, Taurus, Taurus X, Explorer and Sport Trac; Mercury Milan, Montego and Mountaineer; and Lincoln MKX and MKZ. The technology is expected to be available on all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles in the near future.

OnStar’s navigation and emergency roadside service costs between $17 and $70 per month.

When a driver presses the Red OnStar Emergency button or Blue OnStar button, current vehicle data and the user’s GPS location are immediately gathered, then sent to OnStar. OnStar Emergency calls are routed to the OnStar Center with highest priority.

Autoweek has an interesting feature story, Under the Hood with Big Brother that details the perils of black box systems in cars, GPS guidance systems like OnStar and roadway wireless systems like the Intelligent Transportation System.

Written by: Luke Pensworth

Luke is the managing editor and site manager of Dailywireless. As a wireless enthusiast/consumer, he reviews a lot of services based on his own experience. Disgruntled as he may be, he tries to keep his articles as honest as possible.