Cable's Wild About Wireless

WASHINGTON -- The Cable Show -- The wireless strategies of Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Cox Communications Inc. , and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) may be jutting in three different directions, but they all share a common goal: to create platforms that extend their portfolios of voice, video, and data services.

The MSOs outlined their goals during a Friday afternoon panel here, with none of them expecting to be able to mobilize their entire service arsenals right off the bat.

Time Warner Cable, which will offer its brand of WiMax through a parnership with Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), expects to focus primarily on delivering wireless Internet access at first. (See Cable Plays Clearwire Card.) The service should launch in the fourth quarter, MSO group VP of wireless services Mike Roudi said.

"Our [WiMax service] really starts as a data piece," Roudi said, with VoIP and other applications to come later.

While Clearwire takes responsibility for the build-out of the network itself, Time Warner Cable will handle the marketing, service pricing and packaging, billing, and customer care, Roudi said.

Cox, meanwhile, is going to lead with mobile voice as it builds out a 3G network and partially piggybacks on the Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) network. (See Cox Wireless: Soup to Nuts and Cox, Huawei Make Wireless Connection .) It's also starting some 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) trials later this year.

"There's a lot of money out there to be had in the voice market," said Stephen Bye, Cox's VP of wireless strategy and development.

Bye said the service will launch later this year, available only in Cox's cable footprint. It will carry the Cox name and will be backed by a big retail push.

"Wireless is heavily indexed on retail," Bye said. "That's a channel that dominates distribution."

Finally, Cablevision is about halfway done deploying a WiFi mesh network in New York and New Jersey. That project, which also includes network plumbing for Docsis 3.0, is expected to cost about $300 million. (See Cablevision Hits 1M WiFi Hits, Cablevision WiFi Enters NJ, and Why WiFi Is a Winner .)

Cablevision estimates it can get a return on the WiFi investment in less than five years if it's able to increase its high-speed Internet subscriber base by just 5 percent. "It makes this investment look very reasonable," Bickham said.

The MSO has hotspots running in the three main train lines that serve the N.Y. metro area. Cablevision is also working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on a deal that would let Cablevision put WiFi gear on the trains themselves, according to John Bickham, president of Cablevision's cable and communications unit.

Cablevision offers WiFi access for free to its cable modem subscribers.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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