Comcast Gives WiFi a Try
Comcast, the nation's largest MSO, confirms a report that it is conducting a technical trail in about 100 New Jersey Transmit commuter rail stations that provides free wireless access to the operator's cable modem customers. Those subs can tap in using laptops and other WiFi-connected devices by selecting the Comcast WiFi option and applying the user names and passwords they use for their home-side cable modem services.
Although this is considered a limited beta trial, it could also be viewed as a step toward a wider deployment should Comcast discover that providing free WiFi sweetens the pot for its wired-up high-speed cable modem offerings. Should Comcast opt to do more, it could also be seen as a hedge against AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s WiFi hotspot strategy and a competitive weapon to wield against Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)'s FiOS platform.
"This is strictly a technical trial," says Comcast spokeswoman Mary Nell Westbrook, who stressed that the MSO's WiFi activities are completely separate to those involving WiMax and the agreement with Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR). (See Cable Plays Clearwire Card.) The WiFi trial, she says, will help Comcast see "how technically we can make this work and seeing if this would be a value-add to our existing Internet customers."
Comcast is basing some of its WiFi activity on what it has been able to glean from Cablevision's experience with the technology.
Comcast "watched and listened and learned [about] Cablevision's launch experience," Westbrook says.
If Comcast likes the way Cablevision is doing things, a broader adoption by the Philadelphia-based MSO could be good news for Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and BelAir Networks Inc. , which are both involved in an ambitious WiFi rollout by Cablevision that will eventually cover its properties in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. This map illustrates the progress Cablevision has made so far. (See Cablevision Doubles Up on WiFi and Cablevision Plays WiFi Card .)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News