Cable giants join forces on wireless roaming with CableWiFi

The nation's largest cable TV companies have announced a landmark Wi-Fi sharing agreement that will allow their customers free access to an aggregated network of more than 50,000 WiFi hotspots owned by the companies.

Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), Cablevision (NYSE: CVC), Cox Communications and Bright House Networks announced that shared access will be enabled and simplified under a new network name, "CableWiFi," that subscribers can use when accessing the Wi-Fi hotspots outside their home markets. Bright House Networks and Cablevision launched CableWiFi alongside their branded WiFi networks in the New York City area and central Florida earlier this month. Over the next few months, the CableWiFi network name will be added by each of the cable companies to their branded WiFi hotspots.

The cable MSOs have stepped up their focus on building WiFi hotspots during the last three years, initially launching coverage primarily as a broadband value-add for their own customers. Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision already had a deal in place for network sharing and cooperation on building WiFi hotspots, and Time Warner Cable recently applied to patent a WiFi roaming process. However, this agreement goes further than previous efforts by allowing customers access to a much larger network of hotspots than they could access previously, while knowing that the hotspots are run by a trusted partner of their own service provider. For the operators, that trust can translate into an ability to provide greater quality of experience to their own customers.

The CableWiFi partnership also raises the cable TV industry's ante in their ongoing broadband battle with telcos, and better position cable-operated Wi-Fi as a more realistic, widely available alternative to mobile broadband for users who see frequent congestion on their 3G networks. The mobile industry also has begun turning to WiFi to address that problems with new standards and technologies to simplify mobile WiFi data roaming, but CableWiFi's blanket sharing agreement and simple log-in for users arguably has jumped ahead of many such efforts.

"We believe that WiFi 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," Kristin Dolan, Cablevision's senior executive vice president of product management and marketing, said in Monday's announcement. 

Cable subscribers wanting to use CableWiFi while outside their home markets just need to look for the CableWiFi network tag, and can connect using the same credentials as they do when accessing their own providers' WiFi networks. In the coming months, users will be able to have their devices auto-connect to the Internet when located in any of the Cable WiFi hotspots.

The CableWiFi partners also want to continue to expand their WiFi coverage--which mostly consists of hotspots in the New York tri-state area, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Tampa and Orlando--by building more hotspots in other markets. This should make CableWiFi a major boon to vendors, such as BelAir Networks (currently being acquired by Ericsson) and Ruckus Wireless, that already are working closely with the cable TV companies.

For more:
- here's the CableWiFi press release

Related articles
Cablevision develops technology for WiFi-based mobile phone service
Bright House builds 2,000 WiFi hotspots in Florida BelAir deploys compact LTE/3G/WiFi transmitter
How WiFi can hook triple-play subscribers
Time Warner Cable spends $15M to build WiFi network in Southern California
Time Warner Cable recently sought a Wi-Fi roaming patent

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