Audi plots wireless 4G broadband for its cars

While the debate boils in the United States about how many gadgets we should have in our dashboards, European makes are streaming ahead with broadband-quality wireless connections built-in. Will America lose an auto broadband race too?

Audi showed off this prototype A8 sedan last week, with integrated LTE wireless service — the wireless data format advertised as 4G that's expected to replace the 3G technology in today's cellphones and has slowly begun to roll out. Audi's first connected cars in the U.S. arrive later this year with 3G service from T-Mobile to download Google Maps and traffic reports, but Audi engineers have already streamed high-definition video to the LTE prototype. (There's no indication yet that the data connection goes anywhere b

While wireless broadband makes eminent sense in Europe's tighly-packed cities, there's a whole set of hurdles in the United States, from coverage holes to carrier infighting. Other attempts at Internet connectivity for cars have not caught on for several reasons; passengers have their cellular devices, and kids want entertainment, which parents can provide without a monthly fee. And then there's U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood who's openly challenging automakers on how these new toys will combat distracted driving.

Audi and other automakers tinkering with in-car broadband may have the technology down, but they'll need to answer a tougher question before it catches on: "Why?"