Here Comes the Broadband-Enabled Car

What could you do with 100 Mbps under the hood?

Alcatel-Lucent, along with Toyota and other partners, is showing off a 2010 Prius outfitted with a Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless broadband connection that provides a slew of entertainment and information services — including video on demand, piped into the rear-seat headrests, to divert whiny kids on their way to Grandma’s house.

“The car is the central place for so many things to come together,” says Steve West, senior director of emerging technology and media for Alcatel-Lucent. And Americans spend some 500 million hours per year in their cars, according to U.S. Dept. of Transportation.

A broadband-enabled car is not a new idea: The NCTA’s Broadband Nation exhibit at The Cable Show this year featured a WiMax-enabled car with Motorola and Clearwire that provided driving directions and Internet access.

Alcatel-Lucent is demonstrating the “LTE Connected Car” today at New York’s Altman Building. But the demo is not technically using wireless signals, because of FCC restrictions on licensed spectrum. “To make sure we don’t have any bleed at all, it’s a wired feed directly out of the LTE radio,” West explains.

The connected car is part of Alcatel-Lucent’s ngConnect program to develop an ecosystem of partners across different industry segments “to focus on what’s possible for the next-generation user interface when the world has deployed LTE,” according to West.

LTE, which Cox, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and others have picked as their 4G technology of choice, allows for speeds of 100 Mbps or more.

The LTE-connected Prius gives the driver access to services such as advanced navigation, vehicle safety and hands-free communication (no VOD on that screen, for obvious reasons). The front passenger can access other applications, including a network-based DVR and home-control systems.

All the fun is in the back seat, where you can access on-demand video including content from children’s programmer Kabillion, gaming, music, social networking and Web applications.

According to Alcatel-Lucent, 22% of consumers surveyed would be willing to pay $30-$65 per month for broadband service in their car. The top applications they would pay for include: augmented GPS; maintenance, tracking and notification; in-car Wi-Fi; and advanced calling features.