Few Hard Facts Available on CableWiFi Project

Feb. 13, 2013
Five top cable companies made a splash at The Cable Show with the announcement of the CableWiFi initiative. Nine months later, there is little concrete information available about the size of the project, the amount of usage it is getting and other structural an...
Five top cable companies made a splash at The Cable Show with the announcement of the CableWiFi initiative. Nine months later, there is little concrete information available about the size of the project, the amount of usage it is getting and other structural and operational details.CableWiFi is an agreement betweenBright House Networks, Cablevision (NYSE:CVC), Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Cox and Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC) under which subscribers to any of the MSOs can log onto and use hotspots belonging to any other. The launch press release said that more than 50,000 hotspots would be involved.While the five companies have discussed their WiFi efforts over the past month, none offered new hard data specifically on CableWiFi. Time Warner Cable and Comcast were a bit more forthcoming about their general hotspot plans. Mike Roudi, the Senior Vice President for Corporate Development for Time Warner Cable, wrote in response to emailed that the operator ended 2012 with more than 11,000 access points. Most, he wrote, were launched in the second half of the year in the Los Angeles market, with deployments starting in Charlotte, VA; New York City and Kansas City.Plans are to continue the rollout this year, he wrote. “We have stated that we expect to double our number of access points in 2013 with an emphasis on increasing the number of hotspots in NYC,” Roudi wrote. “Between our own hotspots and those activated by our CableWiFi partners, we are giving most of our Internet customers access to one of the most robust WiFi networks in the US. While it is still early, we are very pleased and encouraged by the usage we are seeing and the feedback from our customers.”A spokesperson for Comcast said that the company has thousands of Xfinity hotspots, all of which are in the CableWiFi program. However, the spokesperson would not share premise numbers, usage data or the metrics used to judge progress. The spokesperson said the company is pleased and that the metrics being used mostly focus on customer satisfaction. Hotspots have been added in Boston, Baltimore and in the San Francisco Bay area since the May launch. The spokesperson pointed out that twice since the CableWiFi launch – During the London Olympics and Super Storm Sandy – the company has provided open access to its hotspots.Cox made the most recent WiFi announcement. Late last month, the operator said that it is launching 1,400 hotspots in Northern Virginia and Connecticut. Todd Smith, the Director of Media Relations for Cox Communications, said that announcements on the integration of the hotspots into CableWiFi will be made later.There are a number of questions about the project that are unanswered. These include the number of hotspots currently participating, how that number has changed since the announcement in Boston, whether all or only a portion of participating MSOs’ hotspots are in the program and how the project is managed.There are a number of interesting operational questions. It is possible that CableWiFi is using Passpoint, a WiFi roaming specification and certification program from the Wi-Fi Alliance. Passpoint, which is based on Wi-Fi Alliance’s Hotspot 2.0 spec, allows enabled mobile devices and APs to automatically link. Comcast helped write the spec and the MSO’s Senior Vice President Tom Nagel was quoted in the June, 2012 press release announcing the start of Passpoint certification testing.Cablevision and Bright House Networks did not provide requested information for this post. It’s likely that Optimum – the brand name of Cablevision’s WiFi, broadband and phone service – is the most advanced on public WiFi. The company had about 47,000 hotspots in the New York City, Connecticut and New Jersey metropolitan area, according to a SeekingAlpha transcript of the company’s third quarter 2012 results conference call. Cablevision has been aggressive. The MSO has offered a cloud supplement its premise-based WiFi service for at least a couple of years.Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Reach him at [email protected].