Months before they plan to consummate their proposed $45 billion marriage, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are already starting to think and act more like one, at least on the wireless front.
The two large US MSOs each unveiled plans to expand their WiFi offerings for business customers. While the specifics of the plans differ, both cable companies are seeking to boost the appeal of their commercial packages, woo more business prospects, and foster greater WiFi use by their commercial clientele.
In the bolder of the two initiatives, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) announced Tuesday that it's rolling out a dual-band WiFi gateway for commercial customers. Known as the Business Wireless Gateway, the wireless router enables the MSO's commercial subscribers to assign a private WiFi signal for their own use while making the other WiFi signal available publicly to their own customers.
The new business-oriented device thus apes the dual-band wireless gateways that Comcast is busily deploying under its home hotspot initiative, which the MSO is using to expand its hotspot coverage drastically around the nation. Comcast, which now has more than 1 million public hotspots throughout the US, is looking to boost that total to a whopping 8 million access points by year's end. (See Comcast's Home Hotspots Heat Up and Comcast Whips Up More WiFi.)
Comcast said it is offering the new dual-band gateways and Business WiFi service in most of its commercial Internet packages, along with around-the-clock customer technical support. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is supplying the new dual-band devices for Comcast.
Unlike Comcast, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) is not installing dual-band WiFi gateways in all of its commercial locations. But the MSO is now offering its advanced TWC WiFi Hotspot service for no extra charge to its SMB and enterprise subscribers throughout the US, enabling them to offer free wireless service to their customers.
TW Cable's WiFi Hotspot solution includes a free WiFi access point installed and managed by the MSO's business services unit. The access point also comes with its own Internet connection, which ensures that companies can keep their private web traffic separate and secure from the public Internet traffic, similar in function to the dual-band gateways that Comcast is now installing for its commercial customers. (See TWC & Charter Embrace Next-Gen WiFi.)
Also unlike Comcast, TW Cable does not have millions of WiFi hotspots spread across the nation. But like Comcast, TWC, which now has more than 35,000 hotspots in New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, and four other major markets, is rapidly building up its network of access points. In a separate deal announced Tuesday, for instance, TWC said it is teaming up with Boingo to offer WiFi roaming at both operators' locations.
These like-minded moves by TWC and Comcast come just a month after both firms conducted nationwide surveys showing that US businesses want their WiFi now. In the TW Cable survey, 80% of SMBs said they believe their customers expect free WiFi service, and they ranked it as a prime way to attract new customers. But only 43% of respondents actually offered free WiFi to their customers.
Likewise, the Comcast survey of "Main Street" entrepreneurs and small-business IT decision makers found that offering free WiFi does a better job of keeping their customers happy than offering such other goodies as free candy, water, or magazines. Most respondents also said that free WiFi offerings help bring in new customers, encourage repeat business, and lead to higher sales per customer visit.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading