Comcast, Charter Communications, Google, and Time Warner Cable and several other tech-oriented organizations and companies have formed WiFiForward, a coalition that aims to apply more pressure on the government to free up more unlicensed spectrum toward the use of Wi-Fi.
Other members include Microsoft, Broadcom, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Best Buy, Consumer Electronics Association, and The American Library Association. Notably not part of the coalition are mobile service giants Verizon Communications and AT&T, which have invested heavily on LTE and the upgrades of their cellular networks.
Cable interests are represented as industry continues to use Wi-Fi as a key weapon in its wireless arsenal. Members of the “CableWiFi” roaming consortium – Comcast, TWC, Bright House Networks, Cablevision Systems and Cox Communications—have deployed more than 200,000 public hotspots that are accessible to their respective cable modem subs as a value add. Comcast claims that its customers now have access to nearly 1 million hotspots, a figure that includes its rapid activation of separately provisioned, quasi-public XfinityWiFi” SSID signals that are being broadcast from home-side DOCSIS-powered wireless gateways.
Wi-Fi is also expected to play a bigger role in MSO-delivered cellular backhaul services.
But cable has long urged the FCC to free up more unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz band, arguing that it’s needed to enable faster wireless access speeds, including 1-Gbps speeds targeted by 802.11ac, and to avoid network congestion as Wi-Fi usage continues to rise.
Among recent action, the NCTA fired off a study (subscription required) from CableLabs and the University of Colorado holding that spectrum used by cable Wi-Fi services and Globalstar’s satellite-based phone and data services can coexist.
The formation of WiFiForward will amp up the political pressure as the government reevaluates its spectrum policies.
“WiFi traffic in the U.S. is growing at 68% per year and since launching Xfinity WiFi, the number of users has tripled year-over-year,” Tom Nagel, Comcast’s SVP, business development, strategic initiatives, said in this blog post about the MSO’s involvement in the newly formed coalition.
“Skyrocketing usage on WiFi networks has caused significant congestion in existing WiFi spectrum bands, especially in urban areas and in crowded public venues. It is critical that we take action now so that we have WiFi networks that can continue to meet the growing needs of consumers in the future,” he added.