With AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) sucking wind thanks to the popularity of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s iPhone and other mobile devices, major MSOs such as Cablevision, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) have been stepping up their focus on building WiFi hotspots. Rather than charge additional fees for WiFi access, the operators are using WiFi as a way to drive high-speed data subscriber growth and retention.
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The demand for increased WiFi access points has been a boon for BelAir Networks Inc. , an Ontario-based firm that supplies WiFi hardware and access control systems to Cablevision, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable. BelAir, whose investors include Comcast Interactive Capital, is supplying the equipment Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast are using to allow subscribers in the New York metropolitan area to access WiFi at train stations and other public locations. (See MSO WiFi: Roam (If You Want To).)
BelAir VP of marketing Dave Park said most of the traffic at the company's WiFi hotspots comes from mobile phone customers surfing the Web on the iPhone and other smartphones. And why not? AT&T can't handle it.
"We're so happy every time those guys announce a new one," Park said regarding Apple's unveiling earlier this week of the iPhone 4.
As detailed in a map of its coverage area, Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella said the company has deployed "tens of thousands" of access points across its service area in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Subscribers can find hotspots at train stations, streets featuring shops and restaurants, public parks, and beaches.
Maiella said Cablevision customers are accessing the Internet more than 3 million times a month through Optimum WiFi.
MSOs aren't yet attempting to cover their entire footprints with WiFi, as some municipal WiFi providers have attempted. "It's a more targeted approach of where people will use it and gain the value of having a high-speed connection," Park said.
Delivering mobile voice and video services could be another growth area for the WiFi sector. Cablevision executives have said that the company plans to test a mobile telephone product that would rely on both WiFi and cellular networks. (See Cablevision Preps Network DVR, WiFi Phone.)
— Steve Donohue, Special to