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AT&T Rolls Out ZTE Mobley Wi-Fi In-Vehicle Hot Spot

It’s the first plug-in vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot to hit the market — at least the first from AT&T. The wireless giant has tag-teamed with ZTE USA to offer ZTE Mobley, which launches on September 11 in AT&T brick-and-mortar and online stores.

Packing a a powerful punch, the ZTE Mobley allows you to connect up to five devices to the Internet. You can use the hotspot data plan to surf the Web, play games and watch videos on AT&T’s LTE network.

“The ZTE Mobley is our first Wi-Fi plug-in for the car,” said Chris Penrose, senior vice president for Internet of Things at AT&T Mobility, in a statement. Penrose is pushing the new accessory to families, entertainment enthusiasts and professionals — essentially targeting anyone who needs the ability to connect multiple Wi-Fi-capable devices on the road.

Guess What? It’s Affordable

Here’s how it works: Plug the ZTE Mobley into your vehicle’s OBD II, also known as an on-board diagnostics port. You don’t need a brand new car to leverage the device. According to AT&T, it works with almost all vehicles that were built in 1996 or later.

After you plug in the device, you’re good to go. In other words, you don’t have to use charging cables for the device. Your car automatically powers the ZTE Mobley and creates a Wi-Fi connection. In fact, AT&T said that connection will happen in seconds.

Lixin Cheng, CEO and chairman of ZTE USA, is billing the device as “both useful and affordable.” Affordable is true, if you sign a two-year agreement or pay $100 with no annual commitment to AT&T. You can also add the device to your Mobile Share Value Plan for another $10 a month or connect it to your DataConnect plan with monthly charges of $20 for 1 GB or $30 for 3 GB.

Is it Risky?

The ZTE Mobley offers fast network speeds. It carries a Qualcomm MDM9215 processor and taps into AT&T’s 4G LTE network. Some consumers will find it especially convenient because they won’t have to turn the device on or off. The Wi-Fi is on when the car is on. You can also customize networks through AT&T’s Wi-Fi manager home page.

We caught up with Roger Entner, a principal analyst at Recon Analytics, to get his take on the ZTE Mobley. He told us it’s much like many of the other competing products on the market. “This is not much different than a smartphone hotspot,” Entner said. “The difference is it has better battery life because it is plugged into the car.”

AT&T’s timing is good and bad. Good in the sense that currently there are no news stories about car hacking. Tesla, Chrysler and GM all made technology news headlines in July and August for flaws in computer software that put drivers in danger. In all cases, the hackers could hijack vehicles and control them remotely.

AT&T’s timing is perhaps bad, though, because the memories of those headlines haven’t totally faded. Consumers may be weary of plugging anything into their OBD II port given the unknown risks.

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