Following the wireless playbook of its would-be acquirer Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable has announced the expansion of its outdoor WiFi hotspot network to three new cities: Dallas, San Antonio and Raleigh.
The move comes even as Charter Communications Inc. – which intends to acquire TWC for $56 billion -- has made it clear that it wants to invest more heavily in wireless, and as Liberty Media Corp. (NYSE: LMC) Chairman and Charter investor John Malone has said he would be interested in a WiFi phone service with cellular backup. (See Charter Plans Business Services, Wireless Push .)
The latest wireless expansion from Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) brings the operator's outdoor count to more than 100,000 hotspots across New York City, Austin, Kansas City, Myrtle Beach, San Diego, Palm Springs and Hawaii. TWC also offers indoor WiFi access in some public gathering places like restaurants and transportation hubs.
Adding yet more connectivity to its offering, Time Warner Cable is part of the Cable WiFi consortium, which gives WiFi users access to more than 400,000 hotspots nationwide, and it has a partnership with Boingo, which opens up access to more than 100 more hotspots at premium locations including 25 major US airports. The cable operator said that its subscribers initiated more than 180 million WiFi sessions on the TWC network in 2014, up 327% over the year before.
The WiFi craze is not limited to TWC alone among cable providers. In addition to Charter's stated ambitions, Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) has already launched a phone service called Freewheel that relies on the company's more than one million Optimum WiFi hotspots. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has also been particularly aggressive in providing WiFi access to subscribers. Thanks to in-home routers that double as WiFi hotspots, Comcast now hosts well over eight million hotspots throughout its customer footprint. (See Comcast Weighs WiFi Plans.)
Telecom operators are hardly sitting idly by. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), for example, is making a push to sell more WiFi into the enterprise market, and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), which is also selling to enterprise customers, just announced a new smart city initiative with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) that will bring WiFi to the downtown street car line in Kansas City, MO. (See AT&T Woos SMBs With Small-Scale WiFi and Sprint & Cisco Bring WiFi to Downtown KC .)
There are also numerous efforts underway across the industry to continue improving WiFi technology. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) , Wi-Fi Alliance and Wireless Broadband Alliance are all collaborating on new standards for carrier-grade WiFi, which is being designed to help WiFi networks behave more like cellular ones. Among the improvements already implemented is the development of the Passpoint program, also called the Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) initiative. Most of Time Warner Cable's WiFi network is already Passpoint-enabled, which means users can seamlessly roam between WiFi hotspots without having to log in repeatedly. (See Carrier-Grade WiFi Still 2 Years Away – CableLabs.)
Globally, WiFi usage continues to rise. According to ABI Research, half of all Internet traffic travels over WiFi, and WiFi carries 10 times the load of cellular networks. (See 5 Things to Know About Today's WiFi .)
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading