The MSO, which announced its intentions to enter the game back in October 2008, is launching a range of 3G voice and data packages today in three markets: Hampton Roads, Va.; Orange County, Calif.; and Omaha, Neb. Cox serves about 1.45 million cable subs in those markets combined.
To help accelerate its entry, Cox is starting off by leasing access on Sprint's national 3G CDMA network, but is supporting wireless customers via its own core network and systems. Cox is also building a wireless network of its own that will start off as 3G and later migrate to Long Term Evolution (LTE). It's not saying when it intends to start serving customers on its homegrown wireless network.
At launch, Cox will offer five Android-powered phones from High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) , along with two BREW-powered phones from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), several other "feature" phones, and a standalone 3G modem. (See Cox Wireless: The Starting Lineup and Cox Mobilizes With Android & BREW .)
On the sub-acquisition front, Cox is starting off by targeting its wireless packages at its most loyal cable customers -- those that already take more than one service from the MSO. Cox estimates that two thirds of its customers take more than one product, and one third subscribe to its cable TV, home phone, and high-speed Internet services.
"From all the research we've done, it's clear we have an opportunity and their permission to bring wireless into the bundle," says Cox VP of wireless Stephen Bye.
Cox's 'Unbelievably Fair' approach
There's no doubt that Cox faces a tall order as it looks to penetrate the über-competitive wireless market.
To help it differentiate, Cox is structuring its voice and data rate plans to allow "easy" comparative shopping and features such as remote DVR scheduling, voice mail to text, and an integrated address book.
As part of its "Unbelievably Fair" customer-acquisition campaign, it's also added something called "MoneyBack Minutes," offering cash back (5 cents per minute up to $20 per month) for unused minutes. It's coupling that with usage alerts that send text messages when subs approach their max minutes or messaging limits for the month. Subs will also be allowed to adjust plans mid-stream.
It's also trying to tightly integrate wireless with its existing cable services. The MSO's "Bundle Benefits" program, for example, offers a free high-speed subs upgrade to the "Premiere" tier (25 Mbit/s down) from "Preferred" (15 Mbit/s) when customers add wireless. Among other options, the program also offers free movie package upgrades and unlimited domestic long-distance calling on Cox's home IP voice service.
For now, Cox isn't offering any guidance on how successful it expects its wireless service to be early on. However, it believes it stands to gain some ground based on the general rule that one in four wireless customers is churning.
"It's very clear that this is a switcher market," Bye says. "We certainly see that as an opportunity as we enter the market to provide customers with an alternative."
Cox will attempt to achieve that goal with the help of 25 retail locations in those three initial markets. All are equipped to handle wireless, as well as the MSO's lineup of video, home phone, and Internet services.
Launch later than expected
Today's launch comes roughly two years after the MSO announced its intentions to take on wireless on its own. It's also launching service about seven months after originally anticipated, but it's not upset. (See Cox Wireless: Soup to Nuts , Cox Finds Friends for 3G Wireless Trials in Omaha , and Cox: Wireless Coming in March .)
"It may be perceived that it's taken us time to get there," says Bye, "but building a new business with this level of complexity and getting it right does take time. The level of the commitment that we have made is not small."
Cox is confident that it's now ready to go, having already tested and run "millions" of messages, data sessions, and voice calls on its platform.
Cox has been testing LTE in Arizona and San Diego since January using its Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) and 700MHz spectrum, but isn't saying when it intends to introduce a FauxG service. (See Cox Takes LTE for a Spin .)
That timing will largely hinge on when Cox believes there's a diverse supply of LTE devices. "You really need to have a robust device ecosystem," Bye says. "We'll be in position to be in the market when we feel that we're in a place when that whole ecosystem comes together."
Still, he says he's "very encouraged" with the performance Cox has seen using its spectrum licenses.
Other nuggets about Cox's wireless launch:
"We are looking at these [markets] as sort of an incubator to understand the offer and to see how it's going to do. We expect to do very well in our targeted markets," says Keith Davis, Cox's director of marketing for wireless.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable