Altice pulls Cablevision’s Freewheel service and waits for real WiFi-First

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WiFi symbol in highlight concrete wall.

Back in July, Cablevision announced that it would shut down its Freewheel WiFi-only phone service, and now it says that the December billing cycle will mark the last one for the offering. Hailed as a game-changer when it started operation less than two years ago, in fact Freewheel has been superceded by the growing range of WiFi-First services, which offer lower costs and superior coverage.

Cablevision’s new owner, Altice of France, has mothballed Freewheel – not because people don’t want WiFi calls, but either they prefer it with a cellular back-up, in places where there is no WiFi, or they have drifted off to cheaper alternatives.

A statement on the Cablevision site says that services will be discontinued at the start of the December bill cycle and that international calling service has already ended. Altice moved in July, immediately after the acquisition, to prevent new customers signing up, although we suspect that at Freewheel prices, there wasn’t exactly an orderly queue forming for service.

Freewheel was priced at the top end of the market – $30 a month to outsiders, and $10 a month to Cablevision Optimum WiFi users – while rivals Republic Wireless, Scratch Wireless, Freedompop and Google Fi all have far lower prices and can connect over a cellular network when users are out of reach of WiFi, via MVNO deals with MNOs.

Freedompop offers a completely free service which provides 200 minutes of WiFi calling, 500 texts and 500MB of data, and its first paid tariff begins at just $4.58 a month.

Scratch Wireless offered MVNO cellular access purely as a back-up, at $1.99 a day or $14.99 a month, but has decided that even this is not competitive enough. It is no longer selling that package and will refurbish its business model come 2017. Republic Wireless offers something closer to the Freewheel deal and may well be withdrawing from the market or changing its offer shortly too.

Google Fi is the giant that, so far, they have all been worried about. It charges by the gigabyte ($10 per GB) and refunds any unused data in cash at the end of the month. It uses the mobile networks of both T-Mobile and Sprint for coverage when out of reach of WiFi.

So far, all of these services have had to rely on software tightly integrated with the WiFi on a handful of cheap phones, and the company which decides to scale this idea – sourcing top end phones which have WiFi Calling built in, as the iPhone and most Samsung devices now have – is the company that will disrupt the MNO market in the US.

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).

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