WiFi Hotspots Heating Up

May 21, 2014
MSO news of WiFi hotspots has gotten, well, really hot of late, with talk of what the future holds for cable and wireless. In its quarterly ...
MSO news of WiFi hotspots has gotten, well, really hot of late, with talk of what the future holds for cable and wireless.

In its quarterly earnings call earlier this month, for example, Cablevision (NYSE:CVC) execs were asked about the potential for using WiFi to launch a wireless service. In response, James Dolan, CEO, reiterated his company's view that WiFi is a differentiator. New products are coming that will be "disruptive" to some of the current marketplaces, and to wireless data in particular.

"WiFi, as you know, is essentially an unlimited data service to our data customers," Dolan said. "It actually is very well-positioned to other wireless data providers. Expect that we will continue to push that trend and that we're going to be aggressive in finding and rolling out new products that ride on that network."

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) reportedly has signed a deal with Japan's KDDI and Taiwan Mobile, which will result in lower international roaming rates when subscribers of these Asian cellular operators travel to the United States. This results in a rate of $0.07 per minute, according to Reuters, which also noted that Comcast expects to have 8 million hotspots by the end of the year in 19 of the 30 largest U.S. cities. Regulatory approval is pending for Comcast's merger with Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC), which currently has 34,000 hotspots.

When asked during its quarterly earnings call about a possible hybrid Verizon (NYSE:VZ) MVNO/Comcast WiFi service, Neil Smit, president and CEO of Comcast Cable, said that despite the speculation, his company is currently focused on building out the network and adding value to its high-speed data offering.

However, Comcast Corp. Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts added, "Long-term, I think that we're studying that market and are encouraged by it."

According to a new report by Infonetics Research, WiFi roaming and location-based services are examples of how operators are looking to monetize the deployment of WiFi. Around 40% of operator respondents said they plan to integrate Hotspot 2.0 into at least half their access points by the end of next year. This initiative allows customers to log on once to the public network and then automatically connect when their device is in range.

"Carrier WiFi deployments are evolving to deliver the same quality of experience as mobile and fixed-line broadband service environments, and this is driving WiFi networks to become more closely integrated," said Richard Webb, directing analyst for mobile backhaul and small cells at Infonetics.

Also from Infonetics, $8.5 billion are expected to be spent on carrier WiFi equipment from 2013 to 2017, although the research attributes most of this to mobile operators using the technology for data offload.