Thursday, May 24, 2012

WiFi vs mobile data networks

A Financial Times article earlier this week (US cable operators to link wireless networks) reported that five of the largest US cable TV operators have agreed to link their WiFi networks together. This will create a nationwide system of more than 50,000 WiFi hotspots across the USA. More information in this press release from Cox Communications, the other four operators involved are Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Each company will add the “CableWiFi” network name to their branded WiFi hotspots, with customers using a single login to access each one.

The FT notes that "this is by far the most extensive tie-up and positions the participating cable companies to step up their battle with traditional telecommunications companies and position WiFi as a more viable alternative to 3G and 4G mobile networks." The article goes on to quote an analyst from Sanford Bernstein as saying "The unique usage characteristics of wireless networks leave the door open for a potentially very disruptive WiFi-first service." My guess is that "unique usage characteristics" refers to the lack of data caps and higher bandwidths that WiFi services offer, albeit that bandwidth is only available in a very localised area. But with 50,000 hotspots to choose from across the USA as a consequence of this development, the next one may not be very far away anyway?

A parallel development in the UK is BSkyB's acquisition in January 2011 of The Cloud:
"Sky will shortly launch its public Wi-Fi service, powered by The Cloud. This will provide Sky Broadband Unlimited customers with free access to more than 10,000 hotspots across the UK. Available in venues such as Caffe Nero, Pizza Express and Wagamama, Sky customers will enjoy seamless and convenient access to public WiFi. This will prove particularly valuable for customers who access Sky content on the go, with high quality wireless delivering an even better experience for Sky Go and Sky’s other video-rich applications."
This related press release from The Cloud shows there is a very strong appetite to use hotspots:
"19 April 2012: The ubiquity of public WiFi use is revealed today, after new research from Sky Broadband finds that an estimated 5 million Brits have used a public hotspot in the past day. Released to mark the launch of Sky Broadband’s free and unlimited WiFi service, “WiFi Hotspots from The Cloud”, the research finds that nearly a quarter of us (24%) have used public WiFi in the past week and 41% in the past month."
It was recently announced that "Greene King, one of the biggest pub retailers in the UK, has signed a deal with WiFi provider The Cloud to bring free WiFi access to all of its pubs, restaurants and hotels, including the Hungry Horse and Loch Fyne brands – covering up to 2,400 venues around the UK...The Cloud now has over 10,000 hotspots around the UK. An estimated 4m people every day pass through The Cloud network by visiting one of its partners, including major outlets like Pizza Express, Caffè Nero, Eat, Pret A Manger and Wagamama, as well as First Great Western trains and Network Rail stations."

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