The carrier WiFi landscape was originally dominated by cellcos and mobile offload, but this year the momentum has shifted firmly towards the cable operators as they build huge networks of hotspots and homespots to support a wireless arm to their quad plays, and reduce their reliance on their MNO agreements. The leaders in this trend, on either side of the Atlantic, are the US’s Comcast and multinational media group, Liberty Global. Now the two giants have entered into a roaming deal which will open up huge numbers of locations to roaming subscribers.
The main WiFi players are stepping up their activity in roaming to expand their coverage quickly, as epitomized by the CableWiFi venture between Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Cablevision and BrightHouse in the US. They are also boosting coverage further, especially in residential areas, via their homespot deployments, in which a subscribers’ WiFi router has a second SSID which is left open for qualifying passers-by to access.
The deal between Comcast and Liberty is highly symbolic, as well as covering a total of about 3.5m hotspots in the US and Europe. These companies are leading the charge to create an alternative power base to that of the licensed spectrum MNOs – an attempt which has been going on since the municipal metrozones of a decade ago, but which now has the technology to support it in the form of secure, high speed WiFi with seamless hand-off and voice support.
Comcast has been publicly cautious about any moves to compete with cellcos, portraying its massive build-outs as complements to its cable services, but has a clear interest in reducing its MVNO fees, taking control of its full user experience and content delivery, and generating revenues itself from leasing its WiFi locations to cellcos and other partners.
Liberty has been more aggressive, talking of quad play and mobile alternatives in the markets where its various subsidiaries are investing heavily in hotspots and homespots. The deal with Comcast includes 2.5m homespots run under the Wi-Free and WifiSpots brands in Belgium, The Netherlands, Ireland, Poland and Switzerland. Comcast throws in its Xfinity access points which it says will total over 3m by the time the agreement comes into force at the start of 2015.
The new partners plan to trial the shared WiFi service later in the year and offer it on a wide scale next year.