Carrier WiFi

Comcast Whips Up More WiFi

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is stepping up the rollout of WiFi hotspots in parts of the Northeast, but the MSO has yet to commit to where it will next introduce its newly named "Xfinity WiFi" service.

Comcast announced Monday that it had launched Xfinity WiFi in the greater Philadelphia area, New Jersey, and Delaware. Thanks to a WiFi roaming agreement Comcast struck with Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) in April, Comcast high-speed Internet customers already had free access to WiFi hotspots in the New York metropolitan area. (See Comcast Gives WiFi a Try , MSO WiFi: Roam (If You Want To), and Cablevision Ads Attack Slow 3G Networks.)

That cross-MSO roaming deal and this fresh round of deployments will help Comcast compete better with the WiFi strategies of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ). The expanded use of WiFi also complements Comcast's WiMax partnership with Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR).

Comcast is the incumbent operator in several major markets, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle. The nation's largest cable distributor doesn't yet have plans to install WiFi hotspots in other markets outside Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware, but Comcast subs from any market will be able to access and log into the new service if they are within range of a Comcast hotpot, MSO spokesman Charlie Douglas said.

"It made more natural sense to start in and around where our headquarters is," Douglas said when asked why Comcast chose to launch the product first in the Northeast. The population density in the area also played a role in Comcast's launch strategy, he added.

Comcast counts about 2,000 wireless hotspots (this map shows where they are), and the MSO plans to add another 1,000 in the Philadelphia region, New Jersey, and Delaware by the end of the year. Douglas said download speeds for Xfinity WiFi range from 6 Mbit/s to 8 Mbit/s.

Comcast could eventually launch Xfinity WiFi in other markets, Douglas said. "It's something that we’re absolutely going to consider and evaluate as we look at customer usage and behavior, and see what their response is to having this as a value added part of their service," he added.

The MSO is offering Xfinity WiFi to existing high-speed Internet customers at no additional charge. The product could help it recruit and retain high-speed Internet subscribers.

Comcast declined to say which company is supplying the wireless gear and software for the latest rollout, but Ontario-based BelAir Networks Inc. is likely one of the vendors that's involved.

BelAir has said that it is the vendor supplying WiFi gear for Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast's roaming agreement in the New York metropolitan area. Comcast Interactive Capital is an investor in BelAir, and CIC principal David Zilberman sits on the vendor's board. BelAir was not immediately available for comment Monday.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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