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Cablevision's New WiFi Try – Freewheeling Enough?

Mari Silbey
1/26/2015

Cablevision has come up with a new way to monetize its growing network of WiFi hotspots. For $29.95 per month, or $9.95 per month for existing broadband subscribers, Cablevision is introducing a new WiFi phone service with no annual contract.

Dubbed Freewheel, the service works over any WiFi connection and comes with free access to Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC)'s Optimum WiFi hotspots. At launch -- scheduled for some time next month -- Freewheel will be available exclusively on the Motorola Mobility LLC Moto G smartphone. (See Cablevision Plots WiFi Market Disruption.)

At first glance, Freewheel looks revolutionary. It's a low-cost cellphone service alternative offering "unlimited data, talk and text." But on closer examination, the value is harder to find.

Cablevision Optimum Online subscribers already get free access to Cablevision hotspots, which means any Internet-connected device (including the iPod Touch, which already acts like a smartphone without the cellular plan) can theoretically deliver the same functionality as a Freewheel phone… for free.

And for non-Cablevision subscribers, $29.95 sounds awfully steep for access to the cable company's 1.1 million WiFi hotspots. Boingo Wireless Inc. offers access to a similar number of hotspots on two devices for $9.95 per month.


Want to know more about cable WiFi strategies? Check out our dedicated cable WiFi content channel here on Light Reading.


From a screenshot of the Moto G phone with Freewheel service, it appears that there are one-click options for WiFi calling, text and voicemail. That's a useful feature, but also easy to replicate with existing Android and iOS apps. What service are users getting that's worth a significant monthly fee?

There's no doubt that cellular carriers and other WiFi network operators will be watching the Freewheel rollout closely. If WiFi service plans become a competitive alternative to traditional cellular service, it will prompt a major power shift in the wireless carrier market. (See Passpoint Moves Towards Carrier WiFi and Investments on the Rise for Carrier-Grade WiFi.)

However, Freewheel -- at least as it stands now -- can't claim that achievement.

In order to make WiFi phone offerings truly disruptive, providers will have to deliver higher-quality service than standard WiFi, a price that's not substantially above other WiFi hotspot offerings and/or compelling new features. The cable industry, including Cablevision, still has work to do.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown
1/28/2015 | 5:43:50 AM
Re: roaming around
@brooks Yeah, I was being trite. I'm a big fan of WiFi (I use it everyday!). Still, it's nice to have something to connect you in between WiFi access points.

For what it's worth, IMO the state of communication services on mobile isn't fabulous. Tons of new apps all doing the same sorts of things, with the same limitations. Great.
kq4ym
kq4ym
1/27/2015 | 2:55:58 PM
Re: roaming around
It does seem Cablevision is setting a steep price for something now of limited use. But, there's always some who will bite at any new service. At small cost to Cablevision they can collect a few bucks.
brooks7
brooks7
1/27/2015 | 10:40:40 AM
Re: roaming around
Gabriel,

I have 2 WiFi phone services.  They both work.  One is called Skype.

 

seven
Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown
1/27/2015 | 9:35:37 AM
Re: roaming around
A "WiFi phone service" -- yep, that'll work, no worries, go right ahead... 
brooks7
brooks7
1/26/2015 | 8:10:30 PM
Re: roaming around
So, I guess the reason somebody might do this is like CV..they don't have access to wireless spectrum.

Of course, this leads me to the stupid question that I have often wondered.  Why doesn't Comcast or CV buy say T-Mobile.  They are clearly for sale and these WiFi offerings have certainly not stopped the growth of 4G.

I can imagine some circumstances where a WiFi based phone might be useful.  Heck, I have WiFi Calling on my cell (Samsung G3 w/T-Mobile as a carrier).  I am a Comcast sub, but to be clear I could not use Xfinitywifi while driving around.  Without that, I am unclear how much value a WiFi only phone would be.

seven

 

PS - Phil it lists you as a moderator still???!!!???  ACK I better be nice!
futurephil
futurephil
1/26/2015 | 6:16:44 PM
Re: roaming around
Yeah, brooks7, that makes sense. It would seem, too, that to justify a service charge you'd have to provide a real managed voice service (a great voice codec, buffer management, hotspot handoffs, analytics, etc.). Otherwise, as the writer suggests, any app could do the same thing for free.
brooks7
brooks7
1/26/2015 | 4:59:15 PM
Re: roaming around
The one thing that you would have to do is implement a Mobile IP stack encapsulated on top of a standard WiFi stack.

Otherwise you would have to ensure that you never moved in a way that would require a new IP address.

seven

 
futurephil
futurephil
1/26/2015 | 4:39:52 PM
Re: roaming around
Yes, indeed, I would assume the hotspots would overlap, like in urban areas. Or, maybe there's a scenario where you see a cluster of Wi-Fi hotspots on the main street of a small town that has bad cell coverage.

Dunno. Just thinking out loud. 

 
brooks7
brooks7
1/26/2015 | 3:52:01 PM
Re: roaming around
Good question Phil...I think that would at least partially depend on the time it took to get to the new WiFi hotspot.  So, I think you would have to assume that the hotspots overlap.
futurephil
futurephil
1/26/2015 | 3:41:13 PM
roaming around
Quick question about Freewheel: Can you roam from one hotspot to another and maintain a call? If you could, that might feel more like a proper mobile phone service than using Boingo w/ a Skype app. 

 
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