Five top cable-TV providers have banded together to offer Wi-Fi hotspots across the country in a bid to add more value to cable subscriptions amid challenges from a wide range of competitors.
By visiting www.cablewifi.com, customers of Brighthouse Networks, Cox Communications, Optimum Online and Xfinity can now find hotspots across the country available with their customer log-in. The CableWiFi network monicker will eventually replace those of the individual cable companies.
'New Era of Opportunity'
The coalition members "will allow each other's high-speed Internet customers access to over 50,000 hotspots," the Web site tells visitors. "CableWiFi is the network name created as an extension of the Wi-Fi services offered by the Internet service providers listed here."
Wi-Fi searchers can browse the site by specific location (i.e., Grand Central Station), by location type or by city and check for indoor hotspots, outdoor hotspots and partner hotspots.
"The way customers are using our service continues to evolve," said Cox Communications COO Jill Campbell in a joint statement issued by all five companies Monday. "This is a new area of opportunity that we need to explore."
Rob Marcus, President and COO of Time Warner Cable, added: "We have long been the leading providers of high-speed Internet services in our customers' homes. Through our rollout of Wi-Fi and the benefits of this collaboration we greatly increase the value and reach of our high-speed Internet service, providing access to broadband outside the home and in cities across the country."
The new effort expands a 2010 deal between Cablevision, Comcast and Time Warner Cable for sharing Wi-Fi in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Connecticut.
"This is critical to stay competitive," said technology consultant Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group. "They have to be able to compete with DSL suppliers who all have cell phone capability as well and allow customers to pay one price to get broadband."
"Cable providers need something they can showcase, but they are still at a disadvantage because they don't have the 3G and 4G [data plans for tablets or smartphones]," Enderle told us.
Verizon Wireless recently reached agreements with Comcast and Time Warner in which the companies will sell each other's products, including bundles of wireless and cable products. It's part of a deal in which Verizon will pay $3.6 billion to acquire unused spectrum licensed to the cable providers.
Technology consultant Jeff Kagan said cable providers are under threat not just from satellite providers like Dish Network and phone companies that offer TV service, but even from "good old fashioned TV over the antenna, which is making a comeback, along with downloading [or streaming] movies from Web companies like Netflix and Hulu."
And then there are the threats from set-top boxes like Apple iTV and devices that use Google TV, he added.
"Of course it would take a national network of Wi-Fi to compete," Kagan told us. "This is a good first step. We will see if they can market this service and make it successful. There are no guarantees, and cable television does not have a great track record for entering other businesses."