Avis this week launched its Avis Connect service, the WiFi-hotspot-in-a-car service it first announced at the beginning of the year. For $10.95 a day, renters can get a WiFi access point that's backhauled over an EV-DO connection, so it should offer speeds of 500 to 800 kbps. But the device isn't attached to the car users rent, so they can take it with them into their hotel, or anywhere else they go. The cost is very competitive with many paid WiFi offerings, particularly those in the many hotels that still charge for it, and it has the additional utility of being portable and supporting multiple users -- so it has quite a good chance of success. However, perhaps what's more interesting is to see how Avis is striving to differentiate itself in a field of what's essentially commodity offerings. Car-rental firms have tried to compete with frequent-renter programs and quick-checkout systems, but they're all basically at parity. These sorts of add-ons, like internet access or GPS navigation or satellite radio, could become useful differentiators among companies. Perhaps they'll also see the rental firms become like some discount airlines, where the plane ticket is a loss leader, and the real revenues come from all the extras.
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