US cablecos push WiFi build-outs into seven figures


This week saw Cablevision announcing it had easily surpassed its goal of reaching one million WiFi public access points by year end, hitting that number five months early.

Like Comcast, it has been combining its extensive hotspot network with the deployment of homespots – home gateways with a second SSID open for use by passers-by. This tactic is enabling cablecos in the US and elsewhere to expand coverage and capacity dramatically at very low cost and Cablevision – the first of the major US cable operators to harness WiFi seriously as a wireless branch for its services – says its Optimum WiFi service now hosts over 250m sessions a month, averaging 4Gbytes of data a month.

Kevin Packingham, EVP of product at the firm, said Cablevision customers were “passing more and more data over Optimum WiFi as an alternative to cellular data plans”, a clear signal that – despite the official stance of the cablecos – this kind of WiFi is seen as a way to compete with cellcos, or at least to reduce the MVNO fees cable providers have to pay to support wireless access for their subscribers.

For Comcast’s part, on its own results call last week, it indicated just how far it intends to push its WiFi network, and revealed that out of 8m public access points, only 7m will be in-home gateways, suggesting that it will build at least 1m hotspots throughout the US. No wonder its cash generation has gone down and its capex risen dramatically in the second quarter.

Back in June Comcast launched a dual-mode 802.11n gateway for business which acts as an access point for both 2.4GHz networks and 5GHz networks simultaneously, and comes with two SSIDs, one for private access for the business and one to act as a hotspot. Comcast says that its Business Services revenue is now approaching a $4bn annual run-rate and this has overtaken voice as its third largest revenue stream (after video and broadband). So it will be hoping that WiFi can have the same effect on this important business as it has in some consumer markets.

Neil Smit, CEO of Comcast Cable, revealed that there are now 3.6m homespots in place (the previous given number was 3m), which will double to 7m by year end, out of a total of 8m hotspots in total.

Comcast is so far supposed to have built out only about 150,000 out of the 250,000 hotspots that are available to it through the CableWiFi Alliance with Time Warner Cable, BrightHouse, Cablevision and Cox. If either Comcast or even the entire Alliance is to get to one million commercial APs this year, there are at least another 750,000 to install US-wide, a huge undertaking.

“We’re currently extending the out-of-home markets at a pretty aggressive pace and so the network will fill out. And you would add to those the in-homes, and those SMB locations where we have dual SSIDs,” he said. He added: “We think our WiFi network has a lot of potential. We’re not buttoned down totally on how we’d like to deploy that. But there are lots of opportunities, for example, the Xfinity home product we launched across the WiFi network. And there are other products that WiFi can be the foundation for.”

He would not specify what those future WiFi-based services might be, just saying he was considering all of them. He added that, where WiFi is installed, consumers are offloading between 75% and 80% of data usage in either the home or the office.


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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.