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US Cable WiFi Hotspots Near 17 Million

Mari Silbey

The cable industry's future in mobility is still uncertain, but while the pundits predict potential outcomes, a new Heavy Reading report sizes up exactly where cable companies stand today with their own WiFi deployments. Although WiFi isn't the same as mobility, it is the starting point for cable operators considering their next foray into mobile broadband.

With a total of nearly 17 million hotspots deployed by the US cable industry, that starting point is pretty big today. From the Heavy Reading report, "Taking Flight: Cable's New Routes to Wireless Mobility," here's a look at the latest tally of Cable WiFi hotspots deployed by the four biggest US MSOs.

This month, Mediacom Communications Corp. , another top-ten US cable operator, also began testing new WiFi hotspots in areas of Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Georgia. Those deployment numbers are still negligible today, but Mediacom is planning to invest $1 billion in broadband infrastructure over the next three years, including network upgrades that will support community WiFi services.

Want to know more about cable's wireless ambitions? Check out our cable WiFi channel here on Light Reading.

It's important to note that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) (now part of Altice ) can only drive their hotspot numbers into the millions by including home WiFi networks that also support guest/public usage. Information is still limited on how well these home hotspots work, and how much usage they get from network guests.

However, as cable operators plan out their mobile futures, the biggest advantage they have is not the WiFi hotspots they already support, but the last-mile wireline infrastructure they own. It's still easier for cable companies to add access points to their existing hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) networks than it is for many telcos to drive fiber deeper into communities to support higher-capacity wireless coverage, including next-generation 5G deployments. (See Analysts More Than Bullish on Comcast MVNO.)

For more on the drivers of, challenges to and benefits from cable's pursuit of mobile broadband, see analyst Craig Leddy's new Heavy Reading report: "Taking Flight: Cable's New Routes to Wireless Mobility."

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
10/29/2018 | 10:50:59 PM
Re: Solution
The Cable WiFi Alliance, although still in operation, appears to have stopped deploying new Wi-Fi hotspots. The alliance continues to tout half a million public hotspots falling into its purview, a figure that hasn’t changed in two years.The Cable WiFi Alliance launched in 2012 as a venture among what was, at the time, most of the nation’s leading cable operators. And just a year after the group launched, it boasted that it had tripled the number of its public Wi-Fi hotspots to 150,000.However, in the intervening years, the U.S. cable industry hasn’t made much mention of the alliance, and one of the last public announcements about the project in 2016 (from the industry’s NCTA—The Internet & Television Association) pegged coverage at 500,000 hotspots. That’s the same number the alliance touts today on its website. It’s worth noting that the cable industry has been embroiled in significant merger-and-acquisition activity during the past few years. Altice purchased Cablevision and Suddenlink, while Charter snapped up Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. However, the alliance doesn’t appear to be dormant. For example, in 2016, Charter promised that it would pursue membership in the alliance as part of its purchase of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. A Charter representative confirmed this week that Charter is indeed a current member of the alliance; Cox, Altice (under Cablevision’s Optimum brand) and Comcast are also listed as members on the alliance’s site.
User Rank: Light Beer
10/26/2018 | 6:48:17 AM
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User Rank: Light Sabre
7/19/2016 | 9:31:23 AM
Re: Cellular equivalency
It is interesting to note the huge 15 million Comcast spots, more than 15 times the next largest. But, as noted just how much used those "home" hotspots are is up to questions. How useful is it when the hotspots are not generalting really public use?
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/7/2016 | 3:34:40 PM
Re: Cellular equivalency
I agree, 17 million sounds like a lot but it's probably nowhere near enough hotspots. With ever-increasing demand on wireless networks, there's going to need to be a ton of deployments. I don't ever have problems with service in the Bay Area, so that's a good thing. But it's a never ending race to continue to keep up, I'm sure. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/7/2016 | 10:39:42 AM
Re: Cellular equivalency
Useful comparision. As for SLAs, MSOs already provide them for macro cell backhaul. Margins of error may be smaller for micro - or WiFi hotpot equivalents - but still doable.
User Rank: Moderator
7/6/2016 | 6:33:49 PM
Cellular equivalency
17m sounds like a big number.  But assuming that a macro cell has a 5 mile radius on average and the cable hotspots have 600 foot radii, then the cellsite equivalency is only about 2,500.  Not much when the average national cellsite footprint is 100k.  Furthermore, it is unknown how many of these 17m are indoors and therefore provide limited and inconsistent throughput outdoors.  Nowhere is this more evident than in NYC where I see plenty of cable hotspots, but the connectivity is so poor, I typically turn wifi off, so that I only use my "expensive" 4G.

As for cable cos providing backhaul, the question is if they really can provide the SLAs to the locations where external hotspots will require them.  Cable networks are optimized for density, incomes and residential.  Elsewhere will they be on more or less equal footing to other wireline operators? 

None of this argues against the market choosing wifi over 4G, as evidenced by the latest stats from Ericsson's 2016 mobility report.  In my book neither side (cellular or cable) is really addressing demand well today, or in the forseeable future for that matter.
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