Cablevision COO says Freewheel shows customers the value of the Wi-Fi network

BARCELONA, Spain--Cablevision's  (NYSE: CVC) decision to launch its Freewheel Wi-Fi calling and data service was prompted by the MSO's desire for its customers to see a "tangible manifestation" of the company's extensive Wi-Fi network, which currently spans more than 1.1 million hotspots. 

Speaking here at the Mobile World Congress 2015 conference, Kristin Dolan, COO of Cablevision said that the company didn't go the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) route and partner with a cellular operator because it wanted its customers to realize how often they were actually using the company's Wi-Fi network. She noted that wireless traffic analytics indicate that more than 75 percent of wireless traffic is over Wi-Fi, not cellular. "If we just did an app with an MVNO backfill solution, they wouldn't realize what they got," she said.

Dolan noted that Cablevision's Wi-Fi network delivers speeds of about 15 Mbps downlink and 4 Mbps uplink, adding that 92 percent of Cablevision's subscribers have 10 or more hotspots with a mile.

Dolan also provided some anecdotal information about some of Freewheel's customers, including one teacher who participating in the company's focus group testing. She said this teacher traveled about 7 miles per day between her home and her school. She has Wi-Fi in her home and her school and was willing to forgo having wireless coverage on her short commute in lieu of the cost advantage of Freewheel. Cablevision charges its Optimum customers $9.95 per month for Freewheel and non-customers are charged $29.95 per month. However, Dolan also admitted that the service probably isn't a good option for people that spend a lot of time in cars commuting, although she noted that in some situations people driving 25 to 30 miles per hour can maintain a connection.

Cablevision will continue to grow its Wi-Fi footprint, particularly through external access points like putting hotspots on sides of buildings, park benches, manhole covers and more. She also mentioned the trend among cable operators such as Comcast of deploying dual-SSID hotspots to grow public Wi-Fi coverage.  

When asked her advice to other potential upstarts considering a move like this: "Have the right amount of money and be fearless," she said, adding "choose a path and move quickly." Dolan noted that she believes her company has the competitive edge when it comes to Wi-Fi and she doesn't believe anyone can overbuild their Wi-Fi platform.  

Cablevision launched its Freewheel Wi-Fi calling and data service in February. The service right now works with only one smartphone, Motorola's Moto G, which is selling at a heavily discounted price of $99.95.  Unlike other Wi-Fi calling services like Republic Wireless or Scratch Wireless, Freewheel does not have a cellular backup option if Wi-Fi service is unavailable.

Last week, Cablevision CEO James Dolan told investors during the company's fourth quarter earnings call that he believes Freewheel will disrupt the cellular industry and his company is going to emphasize its wireless activities. Specifically, Dolan said that his company is going to prioritize Wi-Fi over the company's traditional video business, which is facing rising programming costs. He noted that margins for data products such as Wi-Fi are increasing.

Related articles:
Cablevision's Dolan says Freewheel and other Wi-Fi services will disrupt cellular industry
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Cablevision's Wi-Fi-only Freewheel service won't have AT&T, Verizon shaking with fear
Cablevision to launch Wi-Fi-only mobile service Freewheel, starting at $10/month
Cable execs say Wi-Fi is complementary to cellular ... for now

This article was updated to reflect the correct uplink speed of 4 Mbps.