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Cable Technology Feature Article

May 22, 2012

Wi-Fi with the Enemy: Cable Companies to Make Free Wi-Fi Available to Competitors' Customers

By Colleen Lynch, TMCnet Contributor

 “CableWifi” – the magic word you need to know if you buy your Internet from Comcast, Time Warner (News - Alert) Cable, Cablevision, Bright House, or Cox. This magic word will enable customers of any of these five cable companies to use the free Wi-Fi hotspots of any of the other five companies. Did I mention it’s free? All you have to do, according to an announcement the companies made Monday, is log on to a hotspot labeled “CableWifi,” with your usual sign-in. This move enables customers from all of the mentioned companies to access some 50,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the United States, making connecting to the Internet easier for all involved.

This new super-group of Wi-Fi wielders hasn’t launched yet, but the idea is already attracting buzz. The idea was inspired by cell phone carriers and how they are able to roam on other networks when traveling. In fact, the five cable companies are looking to compete with 4G networks, which make Internet more widely available, more mobile.

The Wi-Fi partnership is an expansion of an older agreement from 2010 between Comcast (News - Alert), Cablevision and Time Warner Cable, though that deal was limited to the Northeast. The idea must have tested well, as now areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Tampa, Orlando, Philadelphia, as well as cities throughout New Jersey and Connecticut are included within the plan.

The cable providers do not plan on stopping there, either. All five companies have reported they will continue to increase the number of available hotspots across the country, further enabling customers to access fast and reliable Internet outside of their networks, and without using their cell phones.

“We believe that Wi-Fi is a superior approach to mobile data,” said Kristin Dolan, Cablevision’s head of project management. “Cable providers are best positioned to build the highest-capacity national network offering customers fast and reliable Internet connections when away from their home or business broadband service."

Many wireless carriers’ networks are becoming oversubscribed, especially in cities or other crowded areas, which creates problems with Internet connection and speed. The implementation and use of Wi-Fi hotspots are not limited to cable companies, but with this partnership the five companies mentioned are determined to stake their place amid the “small cell” technology of cell phone companies with 3G and 4G products.

The small cells aim to fill holes in their 3G and 4G coverage, but this group effort from Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, Bright House and Cox (News - Alert) aims to create less of a need to use cell phones to connect to the Internet while out of range. The two ideas are in basically in competition for the same goal, and that goal is user-ease. Both the cell phone carriers using small cells and the cable companies entering into agreements such as this are vying to become the places to go for seamless Internet connection.

There are undoubtedly problems with mobile Internet, and the cable companies have decided to address them, to use them for their benefit, and to pick up more business by doing so.

So far, the plan is set to work out. The companies will store users’ credentials so their customers can be automatically logged in, and this summer a new standard called “Passpoint” from the Wi-Fi Alliance (News - Alert) will enable carriers to automatically switch customers onto their Wi-Fi hotspots when in crowded areas. Logging-in will therefore be bypassed altogether, further broadening the appeal of this new plan to mobile Internet surfers.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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