Mobile Sands

February 4, 2009

Cable Operators Paying Increasing Attention to Outdoor WiFi

Filed under: Metro Wi-Fi, Smartphones, Wi-Fi — AJ @ 3:43 pm

Large cable operators seem to be paying increasing attention to outdoor WiFi.  Cablevision said last May that it will invest almost $300M to build a WiFi network in the NY, NJ and Connecticut area and, in September,  it launched its network in Nassau County and parts of Suffolk County Long Island.  At that time, there was speculation that Cablevision is investing in WiFi because unlike Comcast, Time Warner and Brighthouse, it is not investing in Clearwire. However, yesterday Comcast, one the largest cable investor in Clearwire, said that  it is trialing a WiFi network trial at 100 railroad locations in New Jersey.

Cable operators have the ability to overcome the two major obstacles that stood in the way of previous attempts to deploy metro WiFi – the ability to access utility poles and backhaul. Cable companies have been negotitating rights to access poles and conduits with utilities and cities for years, and have the necessary relationships, capital and patience to obtain them for a WiFi deployment.  See FCC-07-187 NPRM for a summary of how cable companies (or others) can get access to mounting assets.  Another useful document on this topic is a white paper on the “Pole Attachment and Telecommunications Act of 1996” written by Bercovici and Magee.  The right to use a pole costs as little as 10 dollars a year (yes, year) after paying a few thousand dollars non-recurring engineering expense.

In addition to being able to get mounting assets and using their own backhaul, cable companies  can leverage their existing customer acquisition and customer service infrastructure.  Further, anyone building a Metro WiFi network now will be able to use more mature equipment than what was available to companies like Earthlink and MetroFi few years ago. 

If cable operators can build good outdoor WiFi networks,  these networks may help them differentiate their broadband offerings from those of  companies like Verizon and AT&T.  And these networks might also play well with WiMAX, whenever that network is ready.


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