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.
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!”
If there was any question about cable involvement as a Wi-Fi service provider Comcast should have put that to rest this this week as it surpassed one million Wi-Fi hotspots across the nation. Access to the Xfinity Wi-Fi network to customers is a priority for Comcast, according to Marcien Jenckes, executive vice president of Consumer Services for Comcast Cable.
“Speed, reliability and accessibility on any device, are all important to our customers and we are committed to grow our hotspots to keep ahead of the rise in user demand,” he said.
Comcast’s Wi-Fi network is growing in three ways:
Comcast has placed Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots in public locations across the country, ranging from shopping centers and commuter stations to parks, sporting venues, beaches and boardwalks. Cities include San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, as well as areas of New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.
Most Comcast business Internet customers are eligible to receive an Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspot for no additional charge when they order service, which directly improves their patrons’ experience. Examples include restaurants, cafes and bakeries, retail establishments and office waiting rooms.
Recently, Comcast began providing residential customers that have Xfinity wireless gateways with the ability to have a second “xfinitywifi” signal (or SSID) in their home that is separate and distinct from their private and secure home Wi-Fi signal. This additional access point provides Xfinity Internet subscribers in the area with a Wi-Fi signal without the need to share a homeowner’s private network password. This service is included at no additional charge.
The Xfinity Wi-Fi App, available for download on both iOS and Android devices, facilitates the location of business and outdoor hotspots, or by visiting the hotspot finder map online at www.xfinity.com/wifi.