LOS ANGELES -- The Cable Show -- Seeking to blanket the US with wireless coverage, Comcast aims to expand its WiFi footprint to a whopping 8 million hotspots by the end of the year, far more than any other wireless provider.
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) announced the enormous WiFi expansion plans at the Cable Show here Wednesday, saying that it will extend its Xfinity WiFi network to 8 million hotspots by adding locations in 19 of the country's 30 largest cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Hartford, Houston, Indianapolis, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C.
The MSO said it will beef up its network rapidly by focusing on three different types of locations -- outdoor public areas, business facilities, and neighborhood hotspots in private homes. The vast majority of hotspots will be added in customer homes, where the cabler is now installing access points with a second, public SSID signal on the new WiFi-enabled data gateways that it's deploying throughout the nation.
Comcast officials, who just announced that they had activated their 1 millionth hotspot a few weeks ago, said they're carrying out the ambitious expansion drive to satisfy existing subscriber demand and future-proof their wireless network for rapidly growing needs. "Wireless access is increasingly important to our customers, and we are building a network that not only meets today's needs but also stays ahead of tomorrow's demands," claimed Marcien Jenckes, executive vice president of consumer services for Comcast Cable.
The MSO's soaring WiFi usage numbers tell much of the story. Comcast estimates that nearly 200 million out-of-home sessions have been initiated on the Xfinity WiFi network so far this year, a 700% increase from the same period last year. Due to increases like that, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) estimates 88% of all US data traffic on mobile and portable devices will travel over WiFi links by 2018.
Despite some signs that they and other large US MSOs may be looking to develop a "WiFi First" mobile voice service with their rapidly growing WiFi networks, Comcast executives insisted that they're not planning such a service now. Although WiFi can do a lot, they said, it is not a licensed technology and can never match a cellular network.
The top wireless service executives of other leading US MSOs echoed that sentiment at the show. Representing the national CableWifi Alliance consortium -- which consists of Comcast, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Cox Communications Inc. , Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), and Bright House Networks -- they said they still view WiFi as a complementary service to cellular, not a competitive one. They also said they view their WiFi services as ways to differentiate their offerings from their telco rivals.
Unrelated to the Comcast news, the CableWiFi Alliance announced that it now covers 250,000 cable hotspots throughout the US, up from 200,000 last fall and 150,000 a year ago. At these hotspots, cable subscribers can either use their own MSO-branded SSID or the newer "CableWiFi" SSID to link to the network.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading