Now boasting 165,000 Wi-Fi hotspot deployments, a group of five cable operators say they have the largest Wi-Fi network in the U.S. according to MultiChannel News on Sunday. The partner companies — Cablevision Systems, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks — announced their CableWiFi initiative last May with 50,000 hotspots at the time. Customers of these companies enjoy reciprocal agreements so instead of five unique networks, CableWiFi is a singular one.
By banding together, the various companies offer free Wi-Fi to their cable subscribers when outside of their homes and their home market. The hotspots are generally deployed around major metropolitan areas such as New York City; Los Angeles; Chicago; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Orlando; Tampa; and Kansas City. So where I live near Philadelphia, an Comcast Xfinity subscriber can take advantage of free Wi-Fi while vacationing in Florida, for example.
Aside from the wider range of coverage across the country, customers of this cable quintuple gain easy access to the wireless network. Instead of each cable company offering their own unique SSID, or network identifier, they all share the “CableWiFi” network name. Customers just input their credentials once and their device will auto-connect whenever it sees the network in coverage areas.
While the cable companies have the largest US Wi-Fi network, Boingo may have the widest amount of coverage across the country. I’ve been in airports and public venues outside of the CableWiFi five major markets and generally can find Boingo coverage. Of course, the key difference is that Boingo sells Wi-Fi access on a per-use and monthly rate to supplement its limited free access. And its plans also extend beyond the borders of the U.S.
But the cable Wi-Fi folks may have another advantage: Network density. While Boingo typically focuses on business locations for its hotspots, the cable companies have built out their metro network to be widespread.
You can, for example, walk around relatively large sections of the coverage cities and stay connected to the wireless network. That’s handy when walking around town or moving locations in a park while staying on the network.