Getting into the Wi-Fi groove, two Time Warner Cable systems in Houston have rolled out Road Runner SpeedZones, wireless access points that allow consumers to tap into Road Runner’s high-speed Internet network.
The Houston wireless-fidelity rollout is geared toward business, and sold by Road Runner Business Class service as an amenity to its clients’ high-speed operations.
The San Antonio rollout focuses on public places where consumers — including existing Road Runner subscribers — would gather, such as the downtown Riverwalk area.
Both rollouts share a common goal: to extend the brand name of Time Warner Cable and Road Runner further into a community that is, at times, not so easily divided between locations defined as “work” or “home.”
“We want to leverage the existing brand equity on Road Runner to the wireless solution out there,” said Miguel Guerra, marketing manager for business broadband services for Time Warner Cable Houston. “Our tagline is: 'Experience Broadband.’ ”
“Since we are so well-positioned, from a wired broadband prospective, it made sense to extend service to the wireless world, given we have a brand name that people trust,” he added.
“It’s obvious there are customers that use this in the home and office,” said Jeff Henry, vice president of marketing and product development at Time Warner Cable in San Antonio, referring to high-speed Internet access. “And they have an interest in being able to go into a more wide area.”
For example, Henry said subscribers might want “to go down to the park and finish up on your e-mail.”
It’s that blending of the work space and personal space that leaves both Guerra and Henry believing there is a wide audience for cable-delivered Wi-Fi broadband.
“The analysts have painted the market more [narrowly] than it really is,” Guerra said. “Usually, it’s Wi-Fi access at a hotel or airport. We see it as extension of an amenity,” he said, ticking off a list of places Wi-Fi could work: car dealerships, apartment houses, bars, restaurants and coffee shops.
15 IN HOUSTON
Guerra’s staff has set up 15 Road Runner SpeedZones in the Houston area. Colubris Networks is the company’s access-point provider, which makes a commercial grade antenna that provides a Wi-Fi signal throughout the engineered area.
The access point looks like a slightly larger-than-normal cable modem, with two antennas that can take in signals as far away as 300 feet.
Cable is a new market for Colubris, a private company that has raised $21 million in several funding rounds is targeting the enterprise, telco and cable space.
“We see a huge potential there,” Carl Blume, director of product marketing at Colubris, said in surveying the cable business.
Time Warner Cable’s backend provider in Houston is NetNearU, Guerra said, which provides a radius-authentication service.
“They provide the accounting functionality so we can decipher how many minutes are used in a session and trend analysis,” he said.
“They provide the authorization of credit cards, accounting and authentication, and all the back-end support.”
Here’s how it works.
Guerra’s staff will approach a Road Runner or even non-Road Runner business clients and offer to set up a Wi-Fi hot spot at their location, whether it be a waiting room at a car dealership, the sitting area at a coffee shop or a common area at an apartment house, such as a pool.
Time Warner Cable will install a Colubris antenna at the client’s location and sell to the client a bucket of time, ranging from 100 hours to 400 hours a month.
The client, in turn, decides how to sell or allocate those minutes of broadband access to its customers.
A coffee shop might run a special where a consumer could get 15 minutes of high-speed access for free if they order a large latte, Guerra said.
Car dealerships might offer the service free to customers as an amenity while they are getting their cars serviced.
Guerra points out that car dealership might offer loaner cars to customers who are getting their vehicles serviced.
If a customer can use Wi-Fi for an hour or two to get work done at the dealership, and doesn’t require a loaner car to get to work, the dealership will save money.
The service is the standard speed — 3 Megabits per second downstream and 384 Kilobits per second upstream — available to other Road Runner subscribers in the marketplace, he said.
“Authentication comes in several ways,” Guerra said. “Venues are given boxes of secure access ID cards. They each have a code that will be entered into an authentication page” once the consumer powers up his PC or PDA.
Typically, the device automatically finds that a broadband wireless-access point is available. Road Runner subscribers can log on to their Road Runner screen, just as they do at home, for free. Non-Road Runner customers can buy access-card time from the venue.
For Road Runner subscribers, the Colubris antenna and backed router redirects the consumer to Road Runner’s network and a SpeedZone authentication page, Guerra said.
“You’ll be prompted to enter a secure access ID,” he said, with information supplied by the venue.
'IT’S A VALUE ADD’
Existing Road Runner subscribers are natural targets for SpeedZones. “We’re telling them it’s a value add, and we’re pushing people in the direction of the venue itself. They enter a secure access ID or RR customer ID. The server is connected to out regional data center in Austin,” where Road Runner information is verified.
“We do provide point-of-sale marketing material,” Guerra said, including tent cards, standard-access cards and window decals.
“We’ve gone after different vertical markets,” he said. He’s sold three car dealerships, three multiple-dwelling units and one commercial real-estate building.
Other targets are pool areas within apartment complexes, fitness centers, care, restaurants, sports venues, airports, hotels, convention centers, hospitals, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, strip malls, office buildings, retail centers, tire stores, public transportation systems and even country clubs.
Any place where people gather — and sometimes wait or pass the time — can be considered a potential SpeedZone site.
Gueera has a good target list, considering the number of Road Runner business-class subscribers is approaching 1,000 establishments.
SpeedZone provides one more amenity to push that number even higher, he said.
The costs to Time Warner Cable are minimal. Its costs perhaps $600 to deploy the equipment, plus truck rolls for installation. Payback is in a matter of months, Guerra said.
“It’s very feasible,” he said. “We are able to make up our money so quickly on this.”
Those same economics work in San Antonio, where one-third of the company’s 350,000 residential subscribers are Road Runner subscribers.
Henry said about 10% of those subscribers already have wireless home networks installed by Time Warner Cable, and that others have put in there own home network. So wireless broadband is concept that is familiar to most subscribers, he said.
Over the past year, Henry’s group has done a number of beta installations for SpeedZone areas in MDUs.
“The issues are security and authentication,” he said, “and the management requirements are significant. You have to have a solution that scales.”
The system chose Airspace Inc. to provide access point equipment, which Henry said looks a lot like a cable modem. “We can run an antenna up to 100 feet away from that,” he said. That access point is then attached to a cable modem via Ethernet. “Any Road Runner certified technician can install one of these things in 30 minutes.”
The system is fully automated. “All you need is an Airspace access point and modem, and authentication is automatic. It then becomes a fully managed part of global network and the backend authentication is tied back into our Road Runner database.”
Like his Houston colleagues, Henry uses NetNearU for back-end services.
One of the first major public deployments of SpeedZone was in San Antonio’s Riverwalk area during the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s men’s college basketball finals.
During Final Four weekend, Road Runner users could type in their name and password and get on the network from a Road Runner kiosk.
Road Runner subscribers from outside the area, say from Houston, could also log into the network at no additional cost.
Current Road Runner subscribers receive access at no charge. NonRoad Runner users can buy broadband time on a daily or hourly basis, Henry said.
The venues where these SpeedZones are located can set up their own rate card. Time Warner Cable will sell small businesses 100 hours of service for $150 a month. For anything over 100 hours, Time Warner Cable charges $1.50 a minute.
“We aggressively promote their venue as a Road Runner SpeedZone,” he said, and supply users with 15-minute promotion cards to sell the service.
Time Warner Cable also supplies tent cards and other promotional materials for SpeedZone venues.
“We got about 10 locations activated,” Henry said, and more will come online. But Henry said he’s taking his cue from current Road Runner users.
“We go to all home wireless users and let them know where Road Runner SpeedZones are and let them tell us where they want them,” he said. “We take that feedback to the commercial sales group. We’re letting the market tell us.”
During the Final Four tournament, there were as many as 18 concurrent Wi-Fi users. Live Web casts of ESPN’s RoadShow television programs went out across the Wi-Fi network. “You could log onto the RoadShow promo site or San Antonio Road Runner and watch the live webcast,” Henry said. “We had 10,000 visitors to that section.”
Overall, Henry said Time Warner Cable can support 1,000 users with four access points in one SpeedZone location.
Henry hopes to have 100 sites up and running by year’s end. His target list includes apartment complexes, hotels and even recreational-vehicle parks.
He estimates it costs less than $500 to setup an access point. “The cost is not that much,” he said. “We think the long term benefit is that customers are looking for a service provider that provides a broad array of benefits. We’re really extending the Road Runner network to more locations and it’s a way for us to sell more Road Runner service over time.”
“I’ve never seen a product with more tentacles than this,” Guerra concluded.
“It’s a shift in paradigm. The Wi-Fi wave is coming with all these other tech companies promoting these services. We’re just riding that Wi-Fi wave, letting them know it’s safe, simple and secure to use the Internet.”