December 11, 2014 — One of the biggest stories of 2014 is the push of cable companies into Wi-Fi networks. Most aggressive was Comcast, which set out to expand its Xfinity Wi-Fi network to 8 million hotspots by the end of 2014, covering 19 of the country’s 30 largest cities.
Comcast’s Wi-Fi campaign has three prongs: outdoor hotspots, business hotspots and neighborhood hotspots. To accomplish Wi-Fi coverage in residential areas, Comcast deploys a wireless modem that broadcasts two Wi-Fi signals, one for the private use of the home subscriber and the other for Xfinity Internet subscribers in the neighborhood.
Having topped 1 million hotspots nationwide in May, Comcast began launching more than 160,000 Xfinity Wi-Fi neighborhood hotspots for the cable company’s customers throughout greater Atlanta.
Comcast was not alone. All the major cable companies announced advances in their Wi-Fi networks. For example, Time Warner Cable expanded its Wi-Fi infrastructure in New York City, with more than 1,700 active Wi-Fi hotspots in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, and added more than 1,000 new Wi-Fi hotspots in Manhattan in mid-July. By the end of this year, nearly 10,000 more hotspots will be added across New York City.
In June, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks announced a roaming agreement among their combined Wi-Fi networks in major cities across the nation.
And in July, nearly 3,800 Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots became available at customer premises in Washington, D.C., neighborhoods and in the suburbs.
As 2014 came to a close, a class action lawsuit was filed against Comcast in the U.S. District Court for Northern California for computer fraud and abuse.
In particular, it accused the cable company of failing to obtain authorization to turn on the external Wi-Fi signal, degrading the performance of the in-home Wi-Fi signal and exposing the customer to security risks.
Whether that lawsuit is successful or not, it indicates that the public is awakening to cable companies’ plans to use their homes as hot spots. If the past is any prologue, there will be pushback from the public, which by and large doesn’t trust multibillion-dollar corporations and is fearful of RF radiation. But the juggernaut has been unleashed. It is now a global phenomenon, with cable Wi-Fi systems being deployed in many countries. In September, Comcast signed a roaming agreement with Liberty Global, which has operations across Europe from Ireland to Romania and also in Chile.
Expect the wireless carriers to respond with increased deployments of carrier-grade Wi-Fi to compete with cable. It will be an interesting battle between the MSOs and cellular.
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of AGL Small Cell Link and AGL Link newsletters.