As much as we've come to expect—and rely on—connectivity to our cellphones and smartphones when we're in transit, it's quite remarkable how many cell-network dead zones remain.
Getting in the way of the seamless conversation and reliable messaging that great new interfaces like MyFord Touch—and GM's upcoming CUE—provide are vast swaths of rural and small-town America (and even stretches along Interstates and within major metro areas) with no signal bars whatsoever.
Instead of waiting for the cellphone companies to rise to the occasion and install more towers and transmitters, a smart alternative that automakers are clearly considering is the use of cellphone signal boosters.
Whether for embedded cellular connections, like GM's OnStar or Hyundai's BlueLink, or with data solutions such as the Audi Connected service available in the new A6, A7, and A8 models, this idea could possibly become an OEM reality within the next couple of years.
Wilson Electronics, one of the major manufacturers of signal boosters, claims to be working with a first-tier Detroit supplier to use its signal-boosting technology in upcoming vehicles as a factory feature or option. Such a device could potentially boost either the embedded connection or those from personal smartphones—potentially without the user even knowing—and would use an antenna mounted either at the base of the windshield or integrated into the satellite radio antenna at the back of the roof.
The company is one of the first with 4G data signal boosters; over the past year, it's unveiled both mobile and indoor solutions. According to Wilson, which exhibited its boosters at this past week's CTIA conference in San Diego, a well-installed OEM version of their system would yield 8 to 15 miles more range from cell towers—effectively covering up dead spots within metro areas completely, and potentially closing the gaps in some rural areas as well.
If the boosters prove effective, this seems like a relatively low-cost measure to improve customer satisfaction. Although the automaker and in-car interface don't have anything to do with poor network coverage, we'd anticipate that drivers without dropped calls are going to keep their cool and be less distracted as well.