Carrier WiFi

Cable's Still Finding Its Way on Wi-Fi

BOSTON -- The Cable Show -- Five major cable operators have forged Wi-Fi roaming deals involving more than 50,000 hotspots, but they're still seeking answers on how to best operate those wireless broadband networks and sizing up how the economics of this new strategy will play out. (See Cable Goes Big With Wi-Fi Roaming and Cable Sizes Up National Wi-Fi Play .)

On a panel here dedicated to cable's aggressive Wi-Fi strategy, cable execs agreed that the wireless technology is key to helping them extend their home broadband services, but acknowledged that they're still figuring out how to measure its value to customers and the operators themselves.

Michael Roudi, senior vice president of mobile services at Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), described Wi-Fi as an on-loading service, rather than one dedicated to off-loading. While wireless carriers start to rely more on Wi-Fi to offload cellular traffic, cable's using Wi-Fi to put more consumer traffic on its wired broadband network.

Still, the logistics aren't easy. For example, how should operators monetize the Wi-Fi experience? The theory is that Wi-Fi access can help prevent churn, but is there a way to get a more direct return on these investments? Cable execs on the panel said they do see a potential option to offer day passes to non-subscribers in the future as a way to generate more revenue.

And service level agreements could begin to factor in as well. Tom Nagel, senior vice president and general manager of wireless services at Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), noted that the MSOs in the roaming agreement are working toward a minimum set of standards for service delivery. The idea is to develop metrics and baselines that will need to be met before an operator can use the new "CableWiFi" Service Set Identifier (SSID).

Operators are also still playing with how and where to place their wireless access points. Nagel said part of that goal is to concentrate coverage where people spend "dwell" time -- areas where they congregate and hang out for lengthy periods. Offering a position that contrasts with that of cable's newest pal, Verizon Wireless , in the cellular world, Nagel said: "We're not trying to go for geographic coverage. We're not trying to have a red map."

— Mari Silbey, Special to Light Reading Cable

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