TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Cars already have become computers on wheels, and now Cisco Systems is trying to bring them into the Internet.

Andreas Mai, Cisco Systems director-product management for connected industries, is working with Continental Automotive and other Tier 1 suppliers to promote its networking services as a standard for connecting cars seamlessly to the Internet, using 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi connections interchangeably.

Continental has a prototype connected car at the Management Briefing Seminars here using Cisco communication protocols.

The idea is for the car to have its own IP address and to communicate to the cloud using improved cellphone technology. But it also would use Wi-Fi whenever available, much as a smartphone can use a Wi-Fi connection or GSM chip.

The car could have an embedded telephone chip or it could link to the driver’s smartphone and use its connection.

Continental and Cisco are collaborating on this project, and they could develop a closer relationship, Mai says. But Cisco also is working with other suppliers because auto makers prefer to have a choice of sources, and some other companies are developing the same kinds of improved network connections.

Car buyers likely would see a reliable network connection as a commodity, says Mai, something they would not pay extra for. So Cisco is trying to develop a business plan in which a little money from the apps that use those good connections trickles back to its coffers.

Mai says Cisco aims at fast, dependable and secure data transmission. For security, it encodes the outgoing data so that a hacker trying to spy on the communication from a car would get only garble.

For reliability, Cisco uses 3G, 4G and/or Wi-Fi to avoid dropped signals. In case of an accident, for example, the call to emergency services would be sent on every available network. For speed, says engineer Chintan Patel, the company optimizes wireless communication 30%-50% faster through compaction, and also by reducing the number of resends and packets sent.

Discussions about the connected car are not easy in the auto industry because, besides the link to the Internet and telephone networks, there are connected vehicles using dedicated short-range communication for safety that is used vehicle-to-vehicle.

In Ann Arbor, MI, the government and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute are finishing up a multiyear, 2,800-vehicle experiment in which vehicles broadcast their speed, location and heading to each other and the infrastructure.

This communication uses a 5.9 GHz band reserved for automotive safety, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. will rule later this year on whether to require such communication in the future.

Continental engineers say the car of the future may well have both cellular and 5.9 GHz connections. Mai declines to speculate on when improved automotive connections might reach the market, but he expects it to be sooner rather than later.

Still, the connected-car idea has taken its time in getting to this point. Mai says Cisco and Chrysler developed this same project to about the same stage five years ago, but their work ended abruptly as the auto maker approached bankruptcy.