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This is big: Cablevision launches Wi-Fi-only mobile phone service

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Cablevision is getting ready to pick a fight with your mobile phone company.  Next month, the cable operator is going to introduce a low-cost mobile phone service dubbed Freewheel that’s based entirely on Wi-Fi connectivity. Freewheel will offer existing Cablevision internet service subscribers unlimited talk, text and data for a mere $9.95 per month. Consumers who don’t use Cablevision’s internet service can sign on for $29.95 per month.

At launch, Freewheel is only working with one handset: [company]Cablevision[/company] will sell Motorola’s Moto G for $99.95, and the phone will come preloaded with apps that automatically authenticate with any of the company’s hotspots.

Cablevision started building out its own Optimum Wi-Fi network in 2007, and now has more than 1.1 million hotspots in the New York tri-state area. The company adopted Fon-like Wi-Fi sharing last year, essentially turning its customers’ Wi-Fi routers into public hotspots by adding a second, separate network that can be accessed by any Optimum customer, and now by any Freewheel subscriber as well.

In addition to that, Freewheel customers have access to some 300,000 hotspots across the country, courtesy of the CableWiFi initiative that brings together Wi-Fi access points from big cable companies like [company]Comcast[/company], Cox and Time Warner Cable. And of course, the device will also work with any other Wi-Fi network a user has access to, whether it’s at home or at their office.

However, Freewheel users may have a harder time staying connected on their commute: The service doesn’t include any fall-back option to connect to mobile networks when Wi-Fi is unavailable, which means that users won’t be able to make calls or access data services when they’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network. That’s why the company is primarily targeting users who are in what it calls “Wi-Fi-rich environments” like college campuses and urban areas with a high density of mobile hotspots.

Cablevision has also in the past made a point of highlighting how big of a hit Wi-Fi already is with its customers. Each Cablevision internet household already has 2.88 devices accessing Wi-Fi on average, and customers have used Optimum Wi-Fi nearly one billion times during Q4 of 2014, consuming 19 petabytes of data, according to statistics shared by the company.

Cablevision isn’t the first company to use Wi-Fi as an alternative to traditional mobile networks. Low-cost mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) FreedomPop introduced a Wi-Fi-only service tier last year that promises access to 10 million hotspots for $5 a month. However, Cablevision does have a distinct advantage by operating its own network of hotspots, and it also has a lot bigger megaphone. Its new Freewheel service will be available to consumers nationwide, but Cablevision plans to heavily market it on its home turf.

That could quickly get interesting: Cablevision’s biggest competitor in its home market is [company]Verizon[/company], which has been using its FIOS broadband service to steal internet customers away from the cable company. With Freewheel, Cablevision is now attempting to turn the tables, and offer a combination of broadband internet, TV and mobile phone service of its own.

Ultimately, Freewheel could become a blueprint for other cable-led mobile initiatives. Comcast has been aggressively building out its own Wi-Fi network by also relying on a crowdsourced approach that turns customer’s Wi-Fi routers into Xfinity hotspots. And with mobile phone usage increasingly moving towards data services, we could possibly see a whole bunch of new players offering Wi-Fi-only or Wi-Fi-first mobile services soon.

20 Responses to “This is big: Cablevision launches Wi-Fi-only mobile phone service”

  1. Mon ChiChi

    Someone mentioned below, “Hey, you forgot about Republic Wireless.” Yeah, there’s a reason they didn’t mention them. They are a DISASTER!! They had a good idea 4 years ago, in 2011, when they launched but they showed early on, and even today, that they don’t have the technical expertise or the customer-service focus to make it an appealing service. They quickly abandoned their $19/month promise of “smartphone service for everyone”, and quickly raised the price over 100% after their first year. The backlash was fierce as customers felt they pulled a ‘bait and switch’ move. The CEO was arrogant and said that they were going to have 350,00 customers in their first 6-months, and here it is 4 years later, and the best estimate by journalists who spoke with the CEO is that they only have between 100k – 200k customers. They have a LONG history of pulling the rug out from under customers and changing direction on what they offer, or fail to offer – which is normally the case – with very little to no warning. They receive almost daily complaints on their social media pages about the horrible customer service where it takes Republic, 3, 4, 5 days to get back to customers who need help. Their own forums are loaded down with complaint after complaint of technical problems that they should’ve fixed within their first 6-months of opening to the public, but they just lack the engineering know-how to fix these problems. And there is a VERY LONG list floating around the net with TONS of features that they don’t have, that are basically Cellphone 101 features that every other MVNO offers. The negative feedback they’ve gotten on consumer review websites and mobile forums has pretty much relegated them to the “STAY AWAY FROM” category. With the Big 4 now offering Wi-fi options and hand-off options, with free Wi-fi calling on Google Voice and Hangouts, and with Google soon to get into the mix with their own MVNO offering, Republic will wither on the vine and die as they are a reactionary company and don’t do much to innovate or push the envelope. Oh, and to top it off, they like to lie to their customers. The are trying to sell this lie to their customers and the public that they are a phone company, BUT…they don’t have a phone number of their own for customers to call and get basic customer service help. WTH!

  2. Keith Hawn

    This will actually be great if it gets a ton of Long Island railroad commuters to sign up and then be unable to yap yap yap (“I’M ON THE TRAIN”…) on the LIRR morning and evening commutes !!!

  3. Which is exactly why I explicitly requested that the cable company remove wireless service from my office network. Time warner would gladly charge me for added features but does not pay me to expand their network for everyone else……

  4. Fri Tu Disai

    I’m using NetTalk App from http://www.nettalk.com and is working fine over Wifi and GSM or LTE. Is really cheap and I have an inbound number. I can link it to my box DUO I have at home. So I have a land line and the mobile app. I’m not limited to Wifi Zones and like Thelep above, this service is cheaper. I used to have it in my Galaxy S4phone and now I’m using it from my new IPhone. Works like a charm! And I don’t have to buy a new phone, so what’s the point?

  5. This faces way too many headwinds. I can use Skype with unlimited calling in the US for $2.99/month, and if I want a normal inbound phone number, that is $5-$6/month. There are a bunch of free outbound calling options from Google, and others…

    In addition, the idea of a network of home wifi access points given you a reasonable fabric falls incredibly short of something that is competitive with a normal cellphone.

    Finally, if you are solving for low cost, Republic Wireless and its plans are the best, and they allow you to have a true ultra-low-cost “mobile” experience.

  6. WiFi calling enables me to only pay $10/month combined for home phone/mobile phone/tablet phone service using a combo of magicjack and tracfone.
    -magicjack home phone service for $3/month
    -magicjack app for free mobile calling over WiFi on apple/android smartphones/tablets/ipod touch(I set the app to use my magicjack home phone number)The app also works on 3G/4G.Unlike other apps,you get free calls to landlines and mobile numbers.It will turn your tablet/ ipod touch/unactivated phone into a free WiFi phone.
    -limited tracfone cellular talk/text/data for $7/month for when WiFi is not available.The more I use WiFi the more tracfone minutes/data I build up as they carry over when I add the $20 tracfone card every 3 months.The 1 year card also carries over your talk/text/data.

    I use the app on an android tracfone and tablet and get free calls wherever I have WiFi,and I get WiFi almost everywhere.The cable co I use for home internet has mobile WiFi hotspots all over my area.I hardly even use cellular minutes anymore.You can get a new android tracfone as low as $20 as well as a magicjack GO with 1 year of service for $50.Great combo for $10/month.

    Using the app for free WiFI calling not only saves you money but may cause safer driving habits by making people avoid phone use while driving as WiFi connections are only stable in a car that is not moving.

  7. This is intriguing, and I’ve been waiting for this for quite some time, but it’s a bit half-baked. Great for people who are always in a WiFi zone, but bad for most people that bounce in/out of WiFi – you won’t have a reliable telephone service in that case. A nice thing is that you will be able to use on your own home-based WiFi network. Not good that you have to use their device. Anyone hear if you can keep your existing Cell Tele #, or do you have to switch to a CV tele #?

    • Charlie Diesrer

      Currently targeted at those in greater NYC area where just about never leave wifi. Many don’t want $35 home phone on cv service, but like the idea of $10 phone. You will be able to keep your tn.

  8. LOL… Sounds great if you pay for internet from Cablevision and live in an area with heavy traffic. Say goodbye to your internet speeds as your modem is flooded with connections from nearby strangers.

  9. You’re forgetting Republic Wireless which has been at it for a few years now. $5 for WiFi-only, $10 for unlimited cell when off WiFi, and more expensive plans with 3G or 4G data. Plus: they offer all three Moto models.

    • Rafiki Cai

      Tomorrow never arrives, if our clock is always set to ‘too soon’. At some point, some one has to say it’s after midnight: a new day; even if only a limited demographic are served in new time.