Broadcom rolls out 802.11ac Wi-Fi for connected cars and waits for the cars to catch up

Broadcom today announced the 802.11ac/5G connectivity that should be in cars now, but the cars that adopt it might not arrive for a few years. Welcome to the agonizingly incompatible marriage of fast-moving high tech with slow-moving car development.

Specifically, Broadcom is rolling out a line of wireless chips that will work in the newly certified, 802.11ac standard’s 5GHz spectrum. These chips, with the poetic names of BCM89335 5G WiFi/Bluetooth Smart Ready and BCM89071 Bluetooth + Bluetooth Smart Ready, will enable streaming of music, but more importantly, video at up to 1080p resolution, from mobile devices to in-car displays on the 5GHz spectrum. Meanwhile, Bluetooth connectivity may run simultaneously on the 2.4GHz spectrum.

And it's not just any old Bluetooth: It’s Bluetooth Smart, which is much more power-efficient than traditional Bluetooth. This means you could connect wearable tech to the car without killing batteries, and let the car check, for example, your alcohol or fatigue level and decide whether it’s safe for you to drive. (And if not, perhaps it’ll drive you home itself—whenever autonomous vehicles come online.) Broadcom also envisions that Bluetooth Smart will open the door to vehicle-to-X communications, where X could be a person, another vehicle, or even a piece of highly communicative road infrastructure.

Broadcom's new chips will be compatible with 802.11ac/5G, 4G LTE, Bluetooth Smart, Miracast, and the Connected Car Consortium's MirrorLink.

It’s not surprising that smartphones remain at the center of Broadcom’s current vision for this market, given Broadcom’s wide presence in the guts of mobile devices. These new chips just make it easier to get stuff off your phone and into your car’s systems.

What I was hoping for, frankly, was that these chips would let the car be its own connectivity hub, so you could get into your car and tell it to grab a movie from your Netflix list and stream it for the kids in back—or even pick up the movie from where the kids left off before leaving the house. The car would just be another mobile device on your data plan, rather than an additional expense. It’s not Broadcom’s job to solve all of these issues around connected cars, but when it comes out with chips like this, the dream seems ever closer—a few years down the line.

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