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Comcast, Shaw Expand Wi-Fi Reach

Alan Breznick
5/27/2013

Large North American cable operators are tightening their embrace of Wi-Fi technology to compete against telcos encroaching on their core video turf. In the latest MSO moves, Comcast Corp. and Shaw Communications are expanding their deployments of Wi-Fi hotspots in their respective territories. Comcast has begun deploying hotspots in Chicago and Atlanta, while Shaw struck a deal to expand its Wi-Fi network in Edmonton, Alberta. The new Wi-Fi deployments come as cable operators scramble to keep up with surging consumer demand for wireless broadband service. Facing stiffer competition from telcos rolling out video service, MSOs are using Wi-Fi both to boost satisfaction and retention rates among their existing customers and attract new subscribers. Comcast announced the Chicago and Atlanta launches late last week. In Chicago, where Comcast competes with AT&T Inc., the MSO said it has already turned on more than 1,000 hotspots throughout the city. Comcast is offering the service, known as Xfinity Wi-Fi, free to its broadband subscribers and, for a six-week trial period, free to non-subscribers as well. After that, non-subscribers will pay about $3 an hour or $8 per day for service. In Atlanta, where Comcast also goes head-to-head with AT&T, the MSO said it has launched more than 350 Wi-Fi hotspots across the metro area and has thousands more on the way. Among other areas, Comcast is focusing on major public parks and university campuses, including Emory, Georgia Tech and Georgia State. As in Chicago, Comcast is offering Xfinity Wi-Fi free to its existing broadband customers and, for a six-week trial period, free to non-subscribers as well. With the two new market launches, Comcast has now deployed more than 56,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the U.S., with access points deployed in Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey and parts of California as well as Atlanta and Chicago. (See Comcast Boots Up Wi-Fi in California.) Separately, Shaw announced a deal with the Edmonton City Council to expand its Go WiFi network to public areas across the city. Under the five-year agreement, Shaw, which has already deployed 3,000 hotspots in Edmonton, will add another 1,500 service areas in 63 parks, recreation centers, arenas, pools and other public facilities. Both subscribers and non-subscribers will be able to access the service in public areas for no charge. Shaw, which focuses on the western half of Canada, now offers Wi-Fi service in its four biggest markets – Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver. The MSO started investing heavily in Wi-Fi nearly two years ago after deciding against using advanced new wireless spectrum to build a regional cellular network. (See Shaw Scraps Cellular Plan.) — Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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