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TWC & Charter Embrace Next-Gen WiFi

Alan Breznick

Although they may not exactly be bosom buddies these days, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications are both looking to take their budding WiFi services to a new level. In back-to-back announcements this week, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Charter Communications Inc. revealed they have launched or plan to launch higher-level WiFi services to their broadband customers. Both major US MSOs said they aim to deliver a faster, better WiFi experience to their subscribers as they boost broadband speeds in the home and extend coverage to more hotspots outside.

TW Cable went first, announcing that it is bringing HotSpot 2.0 technology to most of its 33,000 WiFi access points scattered across the nation as part of its launch of the WiFi Alliance's Passpoint program. This more advanced technology will enable TWC to offer enhanced connections to its WiFi users, matching the level and capability of cellular links. It will also allow the second largest US MSO to offer seamless roaming onto other participating WiFi networks.

The new Time Warner Cable WiFi service, known as TWCWiFi-Passpoint, relies on Paspoint's enterprise-grade WPA2 security technology for laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. A large number of mobile devices now come outfitted with this protection, including the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy 4, and HTC One phones, to name a few.

With the launch, TWC claims that it now has "the largest Passpoint-enabled network in the country to date." The MSO, which has been aggressively expanding the number of hotspot locations over the past year, offers hotspots in southern California; New York; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Hawaii.

Charter then followed up TWC's Passpoint announcement a day later with its own, unrelated WiFi news. The fourth largest US MSO said it will introduce a new, more powerful home WiFi router next month to offer enhanced service to its broadband subscribers.

Specifically, Charter, the first major US MSO to have more broadband subscribers than video subscribers, said it will roll out a "fully managed" dual-band 802.11ac wireless router, starting May 16. The new router, produced by Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR), will be based on the latest version of WiFi, often called "Gigabit WiFi."

Just approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) in January, the 802.11ac spec is designed to support the fastest WiFi speeds possible. Charter said its new router, equipped with that technology, will be able to deliver well over the maximum 100Mbit/s speeds that its highest broadband tier, Internet Ultra, now offers throughout the home.

Charter claims that it's the first broadband provider to introduce such a high-performance router using the new 802.11ac standard. Unlike most other large US MSOs, Charter is offering dedicated home networking routers to its customers, instead of more general-purpose wireless gateways that combine cable modems and routers in one device. (See Charter Goes Own Way on Wi-Fi.)

The twin moves by Time Warner Cable and Charter come as they and other cable operators, large tech players, and consumer electronics makers push for greater WiFi support in Washington. Through a new coalition called WifiForward the companies are lobbying the federal government for more wireless spectrum, stronger WiFi spectrum designations, and streamlined regulations. (See Rival MSOs, Tech Rivals Unite on WiFi.)

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/21/2014 | 6:21:54 PM
Re: next gen
DOShea - "And the cable operators continue to be aggressive--and progressive-- in market segments that telcos could have owned by now if they had the inclination."

Telcos don't seem to be able to expand into adjacent markets. Consider social networking -- telcos should have owned that market well before Facebook. They already knew who everybody called and texted and how often. They have a better knowledge of our so-called "social graph" than we do. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/21/2014 | 10:59:09 AM
Re: next gen
Agreed. Funny to remember back on how Verizon had some Wi-Fi ambitions in NYC early on, swapping out pay phones and instead putting hotspots there instead, thenm offering free Wi-Fi to DSL users. Ultimately they gave up on that for some reason when they could have dominated the cityscape with their own Wi-Fi (and ads).
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/21/2014 | 10:54:38 AM
Re: next gen
But, will the cost to consumers benefit? It's great to get higher speeds and more convenience because of the new tech of the routers/modems but can the providers get the prices down to levels that other countries can? We still seem to be paying dearly for internet services at speeds much lower than the rest of the world. Maybe the next-gen Wifil will provide lower pricing?
User Rank: Blogger
4/19/2014 | 9:22:53 PM
Re: next gen
And the cable operators continue to be aggressive--and progressive-- in market segments that telcos could have owned by now if they had the inclination.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/19/2014 | 3:45:52 PM
Re: next gen
This is exciting stuff. I only realized the significance of Passpoint recently. 

It means WiFi becomes invisible to consumers. A consumer turns on her phone and she's connected. Sometimes she'll connect over LTE, 3G, or whatever cellular service is available. Other times it'll be WiFi. The consumer won't know or care. 

Carriers will be able to extend their networks at lower cost. So while the consumer won't notice what kind of network she's connected to, she might well notice that she's getting signal in more places than before, and connectivity is better. 

(Oh, who am I kidding? She won't notice that either. Louis CK was right.)
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/18/2014 | 5:47:08 PM
next gen
It's quite a mouthful to pronounce the name "TWCWiFi-Passpoint," but other than that, it sounds fairly promising.
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