How to turn your car into a Wi-Fi hotspot on wheels

Buy a car with integrated internet and Wi-Fi

The sledgehammer option to crack the tiny nut of in-car connectivity? Perhaps. But if you're buying a new car anyway, maybe it makes sense to buy one with Wi-Fi already fitted.

There are some obvious upsides. On paper, reception and data speeds should be better, since an integrated mobile data connection in a car can have access to a much better aerial than a smartphone or pebble. However, in our experience, there's little difference in network performance with fully integrated data.

More significant is the full integration of connectivity with the car's systems. Features like HD traffic data in the navigation system are properly useful for avoiding jams. An internet connection can also power features like in-car Google Maps and internet radio.

Turn you car into a Wi Fi hotspot

Where things get really fancy is with features like remotely connecting to your car to do things like check the charge level in an electric car, preheat the cabin or send navigation destinations from your laptop or tablet directly to the car. Pretty cool.

Several car brands, from Audi and BMW to Bentley, offer full 4G connectivity along with integrated Wi-Fi hotspots. Pricing varies pretty wildly, and while it's usually not cheap, in the context of a car purchase it shouldn't be a deal-breaker. That said, it's not a common option on cheaper cars.

If there is a catch it's that people tend to change their phones much more often than their cars. Likewise, mobile data tech moves on quickly. Upgrading a factory fitted system when the next big tech in mobile data comes along, be it 5G or whatever, usually won't be possible.

Choose your data provider carefully

We've already covered some of the cost implications of having an in-car hotspot. Obviously, data charges vary from one network to another. But what about data coverage on motorways and other roads?

That's a complicated question. The general answer is that coverage can be patchy on roads, regardless of the network in question. Last year, a survey by OpenSignal found that drivers had access to a 3G or 4G signal across 76% of the UK motorway network; 3 scored highest, with EE second followed by O2 and Vodafone.

Turn you car into a Wi Fi hotspot

However, EE had by far the broadest 4G coverage, with 4G access available on 54.9% of the routes tested. Vodafone was a distant next best at just 36.4%. Move off motorways and signal quality, on average, will drop. OpenSignal found that mobile data on non-motorways was inaccessible 33% of the time.

Of course, networks will perform differently on different stretches of road. OpenSignal has a detailed map showing each network's strengths and weaknesses with regard to signal coverage.