Having topped 1 million hotspots nationwide, Comcast has now begun launching more than 160,000 Xfinity Wi-Fi neighborhood hotspots for the cable company’s customers throughout greater Atlanta. The hotspots provide a second Wi-Fi signal that is separate and distinct from users’ private, secure home Wi-Fi signals. And that’s not all, Comcast is going into hyper drive pushing its Xfinity Wi-Fi network out to 8 million hotspots by the end of 2014, covering 19 of the country’s 30 largest cities.
The network consists of Xfinity Wi-Fi outdoor hotspots everywhere from shopping centers and parks to commuter stations, and Comcast plans to grow the number to nearly 1,000 by year-end. Most Comcast business Internet customers are eligible to receive an Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspot for use by their patrons for no additional charge when they order service. Currently, nearly 5,000 local Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots are located in Comcast business user locations in the region.
The wireless industry and the FCC are keeping an eye on the cable companies’ interest in Wi-Fi, according to Jennifer Fritzsche, Wells Fargo senior analyst, especially considering the size of the new Comcast following the merger with Time Warner Cable (TWC). Comcast estimates that nearly 200 million out-of-home sessions have been initiated on the Xfinity Wi-Fi network so far this year, a 700 percent increase over the same period last year.
“The thought is with such a large footprint and a dense Wi-Fi network (using unlicensed spectrum), cable could become much more serious about wireless (and use its MVNO agreement with VZ to roam outside this Wi-Fi network),” Fritzsche wrote. “The cable companies seemed to talk much about this on the West Coast this week. The demand is there. In our opinion, the key question is how can unlicensed spectrum compare to LTE?”
While Verizon questions the capability of Wi-Fi to compete with LTE network, the bigger question is what does the FCC think? In the past, the Commission has been happy to declare that the patchwork of SMR 800-MHz spectrum owned by Nextel Communications was commensurate with cellular. It could very well christen Comcast as the third wireless carrier, allowing Sprint and T-Mobile to merge into the fourth carrier, according to Fritzsche.
“So can the new Comcast (following the completion of the TWC merger) become the newest competitor?” Fritzsche wrote. “With a combined revenue and EBITDA of $84 billion and $28.3 billion following the close of this deal (versus $64 billion and $22 billion for Sprint), in our view, it is hard to not take cable seriously and may just be the break Sprint needed to help try and get some consolidation in the industry!”