Cable Operators

Wi-Fi Everywhere: Ops Hot on Hotspots

5/28/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

BOSTON — Cable doesn’t have a true
challenger to ubiquitous 4G wireless
broadband. But the industry is launching
a wireless offensive using relatively
cheap Wi-Fi technology to blanket
high-traffic areas in major U.S. markets
— an enhancement designed to keep
wired broadband subscribers from cutting
the cable cord.

The five largest MSOs last week
unveiled plans to team up to give
each other’s high-speed data customers
reciprocal access to metro Wi-Fi
networks, totaling
more than 50,000
hotspots. Separately,
Comcast is enhancing
its Xfinity Voice
service to allow free
calls over Wi-Fi and
other wireless data
networks using mobile
devices or PCs.

Under the banner
“CableWiFi,” Comcast,
Time Warner
Cable, Cablevision
Systems, Cox Communications
and
Bright House Networks
customers
will be able to access
Wi-Fi hotspots
outside their home
market. Currently,
Cablevision, which
began building out
its Optimum Wi-Fi
service in 2008,
provides the majority
of the access points, with 35,000-plus
rolled out to date.

“While the announcement is not a
surprise … the strategic implications
are profound,” Sanford Bernstein senior
analyst Craig Moffett wrote in a research
note. “The unique usage characteristics
of wireless networks leave the
door open for a potentially very disruptive
Wi-Fi-first service.”

Cablevision and Bright House respectively
have launched “CableWiFi” alongside
their branded Wi-Fi networks in
metro New York and in central Florida,
respectively. Comcast operates hotspots
in Philadelphia and parts of New
Jersey, while TWC has Wi-Fi areas of
New York City and Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Comcast, TWC and Bright
House have deals with Verizon Wireless
to resell the carrier’s 4G devices and
plans.

The Wi-Fi sharing initiative is the
most inclusive to date among MSOs.
In early 2010, Cablevision, Comcast
and Time Warner Cable entered into an
agreement allowing their customers
in
New York City, Long Island, New Jersey,
Philadelphia and Connecticut to access
Wi-Fi hotspots offered by each operator
in these areas.

The networks encompass both
indoor and outdoor
Wi-Fi hotspots
located in high-traffic locations, including
shopping districts, cafes,
malls, arenas, restaurants, parks and
beaches.

When outside their home markets,
high-speed Internet subscribers of the
participating MSOs can look for the
CableWiFi network and, through a signon
process, connect with the same credentials
they use to access their local
providers’ Wi-Fi services. In the months
ahead, users will be able to have their
devices auto-connect to the Internet via
any CableWiFi hotspot.

“This effort adds great value to our
high-speed Internet customers by providing
free wireless Internet access on
all of their Wi-Fi enabled devices in our
markets and additional areas across
the country,” Bright House president
Nomi Bergman said in announcing the
endeavor.

The MSOs also are eyeing incremental
revenue from non-subscribers who
can pay for temporary Wi-Fi access.

At the 2012 Cable Show, Federal
Communications Commission chairman
Julius Genachowski praised the cable
effort onstage in a session with NCTA
president and CEO Michael Powell.
“Cable has been leading the way in innovating
around Wi-Fi,” the chairman
said.

Also last week, Comcast said it
would let Xfinity Voice customers place
free calls over Wi-Fi and other wireless
data networks using mobile devices or
PCs. In addition, as part of the
Voice
2go service, customers will be
able to
forward phone calls to up to four additional
phones or devices, and Comcast
will supply up to four individual phone
numbers to family members for no additional
charge.

“We’re
bringing customers features
they would have thought could only be
provided by a wireless carrier,” Cathy
Avgiris, executive vice president and
general manager of data and communications
services for Comcast,
told reporters. “Really, what we want
is to answer the question of why a
customer should want phone service
at home.”

Comcast said the features will be
coming “soon” to new Xfinity Voice
customers, and also will be made available
to existing customers on a rolling
market-by-market basis

October