Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) announced it will launch a mobile phone service using its Wi-Fi network, making it the first cable MSO to do so. The no-contract service will cost just $9.95 for current Cablevision broadband customers and $29.95 for non-customers.
The service, called Freewheel, will be available in early February and will provide voice, text and data service. The service will only have one device--the Motorola Moto G--and will work, according to Cablevision, anywhere Wi-Fi is accessible.
Customers can sign up for the service at www.freewheel.com. The Android-based Moto G device will be sold at a discounted rate of $99.95.
MSOs including Cablevision and Comcast have been aggressively expanding their Wi-Fi reach, with the former reporting 1.1 million hotspots currently deployed. Phonemakers including Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) have also been integrating Wi-Fi calling into newer device model.
Analysts, meanwhile, have predicted a steady migration to Wi-Fi as the primary mobile network vs. cellular. However, due to numerous technical limitations--including the inability to seamlessly pass the user from one hotspot to the other as they move in a train or car--the era of the Wi-Fi mobile phone was generally viewed as being several years away.
Sprint mobile virtual network operator Scratch Wireless offers a Wi-Fi first service but customers fallback to Sprint's cellular network when they not within a Wi-Fi hotspot area. Jon Finegold, vice president of marketing at Scratch said that 84 percent of Scratch customers use Wi-Fi most of the time for their calling. However, he added that 98 percent of Scratch customers use Sprint's cellular network at some time. "Very few customers use the service in the Wi-Fi only mode. Even though Wi-Fi is everywhere there are times when you are between hotspots."
Nevertheless, Cablevision is intent upon pursuing the Wi-Fi only mode. In a statement, Kristin Dolan, chief operating officer of Cablevision, said: "There has been a dramatic shift in how consumers use their mobile devices; today, it's all about data, and Wi-Fi is now preferred and clearly superior to cellular. Freewheel is powered by the strength of our Optimum Wi-Fi network integrated with a high-quality device to deliver a breakthrough service for truly unlimited data, talk and text without the high costs imposed by cellular providers."
- read this Cablevision press release
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Sue Marek contributed to this article.