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Time Warner Cable bets big on easy and secure Wi-Fi, rolling out Hotspot 2.0 networkwide

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Time Warner Cable(s twc) has turned on the Hotspot 2.0 capabilities across its public Wi-Fi network, letting customers with newer smartphones or tablets connect to its 33,000-node wireless network without entering passwords or dealing with login screens. Time Warner VP of Wireless Products Rob Cerbone confirmed to Gigaom that it has upgraded the majority network with Hotspot 2.0 software, and its broadband customers have been connecting to it since the end of March.

Hotspot 2.0 is a technology designed to make public Wi-Fi work like cellular networks by automatically recognizing and connecting devices that have permission to access any given access point. Typically consumers trying an ISP or carrier’s Wi-Fi network have to go through a login portal on their web browsers or download special connection software, limiting the hotspots’ appeal to consumers, especially those connecting with mobile devices.

A Ruckus Wireless Wi-Fi access point similar to those used in TWC's network (source: Ruckus)
A Ruckus Wireless Wi-Fi access point similar to those used in TWC’s network (source: Ruckus)

Hotspot 2.0 has actually been around for quite a while — the Wi-Fi Alliance began certifying devices two years ago under its Passpoint program — but carriers and ISPs have been slow to adopt it. Hotspot provider Boingo(s wifi) began offering it to its customers in February, but on a limited basis in 21 airports, making Time Warner’s launch the first large-scale implementation of Hotspot 2.0 in the U.S.

Time Warner is looking at Hotspot 2.0 differently than a carrier would, Cerbone said. While mobile operators are looking to offload data traffic from their cellular networks, Time Warner doesn’t have a mobile network. Wi-Fi is more a means to give its cable customers access to broadband connections outside their homes, which is why it has focused its hotspot efforts in key markets in its cable territory. Today its Wi-Fi systems are concentrated in commercial businesses and heavily trafficked outdoor locations in Southern California, New York City, Austin, Charlotte, Kansas City, Myrtle Beach and Hawaii.

Time Warner's Los Angeles WI-Fi network
Time Warner’s Los Angeles WI-Fi network

Many of Time Warner’s customers weren’t accessing the network for two reasons, Cerbone said. To use it customers had to specifically search out and log into to hotspots, and because of the nature of portal-based authentication, those connections were inherently insecure. Hotspot 2.0 largely eliminates both obstacles. After logging in for the first time with a Passpoint-certified device (Here’s a full list), devices will automatically discover and connect to TWC’s entire hotspot network. And those links will be encrypted using WPA2 security. Basically, Time Warner customers will get the same kind of experience they get on their home Wi-Fi network.

“This was a good opportunity to get a secure connection to our customers,” Cerbone said. The network has only been live for a few weeks, but Time Warner has already seen a 15 percent boost in users who have never accessed the network before suddenly connecting to Wi-Fi, Cerbone said.

The Big Picture

Time Warner could do a lot with a Wi-Fi network that behaves like a cellular network. For instance, Time Warner could use it to create a “Wi-Fi-first” mobile carrier like French ISP Iliad has done with its Free Mobile service. TWC could use its hotspots and residential Wi-Fi to bear most of the data and voice traffic load and filling in the gaps with cellular connectivity through a wholesale agreement with a traditional mobile carrier. In its merger filing with the FCC, Comcast(s cmsca) said it is investigating the possibility of just such a mobile service with Time Warner, citing it as a reason for regulators to let the deal go through.

According to Cerbone, TWC has no plans today to launch a competing mobile carrier using Wi-Fi. In fact, he said that Time Warner is perfectly content with its cross-selling partnership with Verizon Wireless(s vz). But Cerbone pointed out that the new Hotspot 2.0 capabilities would be highly useful for customers who buy their mobile service from an independent Wi-Fi-first carrier such as Scratch Wireless or Republic Wireless. Both virtual operators keep their prices low — in some cases, free — by leaning heavily on Wi-Fi. TWC’s network gives them a lot of Wi-Fi to play with, Cerbone said.

The CableWiFi network is focused on big cities, providing lots of metro capacity but leaving huge coverage gaps (Source: CableWiFi)

Time Warner is, however, looking into ways to expand the scope and scale of its Wi-Fi offering, Cerbone said. As other wireless ISPs upgrade their networks to support Hotspot 2.0 — and eventually Next Generation Hotspot (NGH) technology — brokering useful roaming agreements will become far easier, allowing TWC to expand its Wi-Fi footprint beyond its core cable territories.

Time Warner is also part of the CableWiFi consortium of five major cable operators that pools hotspots. Comcast(s cmsca) confirmed to FierceWireless last week that Hotspot 2.0 is on its roadmap. Once it and other cable providers upgrade their networks, Time Warner’s 33,000-node Hotspot 2.0 network could turn into 200,000-node network, encompassing most major cities in the U.S.


8 Responses to “Time Warner Cable bets big on easy and secure Wi-Fi, rolling out Hotspot 2.0 networkwide”

  1. Henning Moe

    To my knowledge many cable WiFi initiatives are based on deployments in local establishments. There is a clear trend for local business to look to WiFi analytics and welcome pages as a much needed source of in-store customer insight and an effective direct messaging tool. How is this aligned with the cable providers need for local real estate? Are the cable companies able to satisfy business’ needs for more customer insight and direct customer messaging through their solution? Or are TWC and others looking solely to municipal partnerships etc when it comes to real estate? These are important questions because unlike 4G and future generations of cellular technologies, WiFi access points has to be deployed close to where the user is to provide good service. If high traffic locations like Starbucks, Macy’s or the airports won’t let TWC and others install access points, then the value for the user is questionable?

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Henning, I did ask TWC about his. Basically a business has several options if they elect to participate in the hotspot program. TWC will maintain a separate SSID for its subscribers, and a business can choose to launch any kind of portal it chooses for its own customers (who aren’t necessarily TWC customers). They can do a password protected screen and charge for Wi-Fi or just limit use, or they can just throw up a splash screen every customer has to click through to access. Of course, this isn’t hotspot 2.0 so they’re unencrypted connections unless they’re just giving out their WPA2 keys.

      • Henning Moe

        Thanks for the reply Kevin! Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention there… That is good. does that mean that the businesses can use TWCs infrastructure to do that, or do they have to put up their own? Do you know if they charge for that service–to the businesses that is?

  2. Andrew Gallo

    This is not only good for service providers, but private networks as well. Imagine a college campus that broadcasts one SSID and accepts multiple identity providers such as its local credential store (LDAP, AD, etc), eduroam (a higher education WiFi RADIUS based federation), etc. I could even imagine a case where they could partner with service providers to give them access to the dense WiFi network for cellular offload.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Randall,

      Cablevision has an extensive hotspot network in NYC, but to my knowledge it hasn’t been upgraded to Hotspot 2.0. The technology only started appearing in phones two years ago and hotspots last year, and even then no one has really turned it on. In the U.S. it’s just Boingo and TWC.

      • Heather K


        Cablevision does this on an “Un Secure SSID”. Open SSIDs don’t have a Lock Icon when you see it in the WiFi Networks. What I understand is that TWC’s new SSID will be secure and has a Lock icon, and that means your over the air traffic is encrypted, and no one can snoop it. Cablevision’s SSID is open to hackers :-(

        My kids use these open Public WiFis SSID, and I am always worried about someone hacking into their accounts because of the Open SSIDs. This problem is not specific to Cablevision but also Starbucks, Hotels, WiFi at Malls etc. Of course some business just share the “WiFi Key” and in that case the WiFi is encrypted. All these other ISPs and Business need to start moving to a secure WiFi.

  3. JimBaker

    This is really a great deal, its the first large scale public deployment in the US. I am tired of logging into the WiFi Networks via a portal page !!!! and these current Open SSIDs suck as people can look at the HTTP traffic and steal cookies.

    Thanks to TWC for leading this rollout. I am a comcast customer in Boston and hate that portal login on their xfinity ssid. I hope Comcast learns to improve that.