Autonet to Offer Internet for Cars

A former race driver's start-up keeps the Web live amid dropped cell signals.

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Autonet's router will come with a year's service.
Autonet's router will come with a year's service.

A race car driver doesn't like to wait. And Sterling Pratz found it baffling that he couldn't get his E-mail while driving, even off the track. So the former race driver is now launching an Internet service aimed at, er, the passenger's seat. Drivers, keep your eyes on the road.

Pratz's Autonet delivers broadband-speed Internet to moving cars through a box—a router designed to allow everyone in the car to share the connection. Passengers with laptops or game consoles can tap cellular networks for access, and the secret sauce is in the router. Autonet had to find how to keep an Internet connection alive as the car moves through cell dead zones. "It was painfully difficult," Pratz says.

So far, he's announced a few dealers in northern California who will offer Autonet as an option. But he said pacts with dealers nationwide are coming soon. Avis also offers Autonet at some locations for an $11 daily fee.

The box will cost less than $1,000, he says. And monthly subscription fees will cost less than the plans now offered by wireless carriers. Autonet can charge less because its system manages data flows better than do the carriers, Pratz says. It will also work anywhere there's a cell signal. But Autonet will offer faster access in city markets built for high-speed access—the straightaways of wireless data.