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Big cable companies pooling Wi-Fi hotspot resources

Companies team to stay relevant in wireless

By Brad Reed, Network World
May 21, 2012 11:00 AM ET

Network World - The big cable companies know that if they want to stay relevant in the wireless market, they can't do it on their own.

And that's a big reason why Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable said today that they'll allow each other's customers to have access to all their 50,000+ Wi-Fi hotspots around the country. The Wi-Fi hotspots will all run under the network name "CableWiFi" to make it easier for subscribers to know that they have access to a Wi-Fi hotspot in the area. The companies say that they've implemented the program already in New York City and in parts of central Florida, and that more CableWiFi hotspots in Los Angeles and Philadelphia are due to be hooked up in the coming months.

RELATED: How Passpoint could make Wi-Fi hotspots more like cellular data services 

MORE ON CABLE'S WI-FI STRATEGY: Verizon offers to sell some 700MHz spectrum in olive branch to government

"We believe that Wi-Fi is a superior approach to mobile data, and that cable providers are best positioned to build the highest-capacity national network offering customers fast and reliable Internet connections when away from their home or business broadband service," said Kristin Dolan, Cablevision's senior executive vice president of product management and marketing. "We've built an extensive Wi-Fi network in our own service area, and see real value and potential in other leading providers joining with us to extend that connectivity to major markets across the country."

The new hotspot-sharing agreement announced is similar to the vision that the Wi-Fi Alliance has outlined for its Certified Passpoint initiative, which essentially creates a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and allows users to access any in their area that take part in the program. What's more, any hotspots that take part in Passpoint will allow users to connect without entering in any login or billing information since the program supports Subscriber Identity Module (SIM)-based authentication that cellular networks currently use to grant users seamless handoffs between cell sites. This also means that carriers can forge Wi-Fi roaming agreements with one another that could, for instance, give AT&T subscribers access to Verizon hotspots without having to enter in any information or manually connect to different networks.

The cable companies' attempt to coordinate a joint Wi-Fi strategy mirrors their recent decision by Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House to sell Verizon 122 AWS spectrum licenses that cover 259 million points of presence for $3.6 billion. Verizon subsequently worked out a similar deal with Cox Communications involving $315 million in licenses for 20MHz of AWS spectrum. Taken together, it seems as though U.S. cable companies are banding together to create a unified wireless policy that will help them stay relevant in the coming era of ubiquitous LTE wireless coverage.

Brad Reed covers both Google and the wireless industry for Network World. Be sure to check out his blog, Google Reed-er, and follow him on Twitter at @bwreednww.

Read more about wireless & mobile in Network World's Wireless & Mobile section.

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