Cox Unveils Wireless Plans to Keep Telcos on the Defensive

Cable company Cox Communications said today it plans to launch a nationwide wireless network to offer voice and data in the second half of 2009, and it will evaluate using the LTE fourth generation wireless standard for future network buildouts. Cox will use the 700 MHz spectrum it purchased at the last spectrum auction, as well as some AWS spectrum, to build its CDMA network. While it builds out the network, it will rely on the Sprint wireless network to augment service.

The triple play of voice, video and data has worked out for the cable guys, so a quadruple play that adds wireless voice and data might as well be next. Especially as the phone guys roll out their own video offerings and upgrade their lines to fiber, making them more competitive with cable offerings. Cox told USA Today it planned to deeply integrate its wireless network with current offerings, allowing users to program DVRs with their phones. AT&T has talked about a similar plan as part of its reorganization effort announced at the beginning of this month.

Such integrated services and bundled pricing might help drive some of Cox’s 6.2 million subscribers toward the plan. Spokeswoman Jill Ullman says Cox will offer wireless service to all subscribers in its current “serviceable area,” rather than specify if that meant the existing cable or potential wireless footprint. She declined to talk about bundle strategies and pricing for competitive reasons. However, the network is only half the equation, and Cox is still negotiating to get handsets, which Ullman says the carrier will announce later.

Cox is not alone in its wireless ambitions. Comcast is planning to build out a wireless network and hired Dave Williams, the former CTO of Telefonica O2 Europe to head up that effort. Comcast and Time Warner Cable have stakes in the Sprint/Clearwire WiMAX joint venture to offer wireless broadband. Another cable company that won a slice of 700 MHz spectrum is Vulcan Spectrum, an entity controlled by Paul Allen, who also owns Charter Communications.

Given the cable companies’ entrance into the wireless market, as well as Google’s white spaces proposal, and even the creation of a free, filtered wireless broadband network, we may eventually see competition for broadband on the wireless side. Here’s hoping.

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