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Tesla is working to turn its vehicles into Wi-Fi hotspots, introduces new chip and module


The whole Internet of Things trend is hardly a trend anymore. It’s now basically omnipresent. Vehicles are a good example of this since virtually every new car is equipped with an option for an Internet connection. Tesla is at the forefront of the technology in the auto industry as the first automaker to offer over-the-air (OTA) software updates for all its vehicles.

Now the automaker is working to further improve its connectivity by turning its vehicles into Wi-Fi hotspots. Tesla introduced a new chip and module optimized for the feature earlier this year.

Sources familiar with the feature told Electrek that everything is in place to allow the Model S and Model X to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot, but it’s not clear when the feature will be introduced since Tesla could be waiting for a few things to happen before activating it.

Tesla’s entire fleet is still under its 4-year free – or more accurately “included in the price of the vehicle” – Internet data service plan. As vehicles start to come off the plan and a monthly service fee is introduced starting in the next few years, it would make sense for Tesla to add functionalities to make the transition to a paid plan easier.

Of course, Tesla owners will still be able to tether from their personal mobile device in order to only have to pay for one data plan.

Earlier this year, Tesla applied with the FCC for the use of radio frequencies on a new device; a new SiP module with a new chip and USB/Bluetooth/Wi-Fi hub. The application was confidential, but the confidentiality clause was lifted earlier this month and Electrek obtained the documents.

Here’s the new USB/Bluetooth/Wi-Fi hub:

The new module was introduced with a new Qualcomm Atheros QCA6234 chip optimized for a Wi-Fi hotspot:

“The Qualcomm Atheros industry leading AP Mode feature allows the QCA6234 device to operate as both a station and an Access Point, enabling seamless station-to-station interconnection with all the benefits of standard infrastructure-level simplicity (no special client software or settings required), security, and power save functionality.”

Interestingly, the confidentiality request filed with the FCC mentioned that Tesla planned to introduce this device in its vehicles starting in the first quarter 2016.

The first quarter 2016 ended March 31, just a few weeks before Tesla launched its refreshed Model S – meaning that it should be in all new vehicles since the second quarter.

The ability to turn your vehicle into a hotspot is particularly useful to passengers. They will be able to use their own mobile devices (tablets, laptops, etc.) with the vehicle’s service plan. The feature will become increasingly important as Tesla’s vehicle become autonomous, especially with the autonomous car-sharing service Elon Musk announced in his ‘Master Plan Part Deux’.

People will start treating Tesla’s vehicles like an extension of their home, where there’s already Wi-Fi, and do the same things they would be doing there, but while the vehicle is transporting them to a location. While it is expected that Tesla’s media features will be adapted to self-driving technology, it is also expected that the passengers will still want to use their mobile devices – because why wouldn’t they?

That’s when a hotspot becomes useful.

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