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By Tim McElgunn
June 4 - Time Warner Cable Inc. continues pushing hard on the Wi-Fi front as it waits for word on Comcast Corp.’s $45 billion acquisition bid.
The country's second largest cable operator announced yesterday that it has signed a deal with Wi-Fi network specialist Boingo to provide reciprocal access to many of the companies' Wi-Fi connections. Financial terms of the bilateral roaming deal were not announced.
The TWC-Boingo deal gives some of the two companies' subscribers access to the other's Wi-Fi hotspots and they said they will work to enable Passpoint-enabled automatic secure logon to each other's hotspots later this year. It is the first U.S. Wi-Fi roaming agreement outside of the CableWiFi pact between Bright House Networks, Cablevision Systems, Inc., Comcast Corp., Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable.
And, in what appears to be an indication of increasing coordination in advance of the proposed union of TWC and Comcast, TWC Business Class and Comcast Business yesterday said they will supply and manage Wi-Fi access points at commercial Internet customer locations, without charge, to allow those businesses to create internal Wi-Fi networks and also offer their own customers Wi-Fi access.
While the announcements were made separately, both companies are supplying the same Cisco-made gateways as part of the managed Wi-Fi services. Those access points, which include dual SSIDs, also allow the companies to extend Wi-Fi access to their respective residential broadband subscribers as well as to CableWiFi partners' subs.
Both Time Warner Cable and Comcast have commissioned studies that indicate that business owners view free Wi-Fi as a critical amenity that is expected and highly valued by their clientele.
The cable service providers are also edging closer to CableWi-Fi partner Cablevision's direct Wi-Fi attack on wireless data plans. “Consumers have come to expect connectivity everywhere, and a Wi-Fi Hotspot gives them a simple, free way to use their tablet or smart phone while waiting for a doctor's appointment or having lunch, without having to use up their cellular data plan – a big bonus for users on expensive, capped data plans,” said TWCBC small business marketing VP Maureen Link in the statement announcing TWCBC's rollout.
Under the terms of the agreement between TWC and Boingo, qualified TWC high-speed data subs—all those with plans that give them access to TWC and CableWi-Fi hotspots—will be able to sign on to “more than 100 premium Boingo locations” in 23 airports, including La Guardia, JFK and Newark in the NYC metro area, Chicago O'Hare, Raleigh-Durham, Dallas Love Field, Austin, Denver, Memphis and Nashville, 36 NYC subway stations, Chicago's Soldier Field, and a number of ferries in Washington State. The deal does not currently extend to Boingo's network outside the U.S. The company says it has deployed more than 1 million hotspots worldwide.
Boingo Unlimited subs have access to more than 35,000 TWC Wi-Fi locations, currently available in parts of Austin, Charlotte, Hawaii, Kansas City, Myrtle Beach, NYC, and Los Angeles. The pact does not give Boingo Unlimited subs access to the 250,000-plus CableWiFi locations across the country. Boingo Unlimited, which covers only North and South America, normally costs subscribers $9.95 per month, but Boingo is currently promoting the plan with a $4.98 per month offer. The plan covers two devices, with additional devices incurring a $5 per month fee.
The two companies are both members of the Wireless Broadband Alliance and are participating in Next Generation Hotspot trials and say they also will complete a Passpoint-enabled integration later this year. When the Passpoint integration is complete, subscribers will be able to roam between the two companies' connections without having to locate the Wi-Fi connection, reconnect and reauthenticate. Passpoint also includes security features to protect against unauthorized access to user information over the Wi-Fi connection.
Time Warner Cable Business Class also made a major Wi-Fi announcement on Tuesday, saying that it is offering commercial Internet customers a free Wi-Fi hotspot that they can use to offer connectivity to their own customers.
TWCBC will install and manage the Cisco-made dual SSID access points, which will support both internal private access and a customer-facing network, at no additional charge for qualified business Internet subscribers. Business owners have the ability to configure the devices to manage how long they will allow visitors and customers to access the Wi-Fi connection. Sessions can be configured from 15 to 60 minutes or can be set to unlimited.
The locations also become part of TWC's 35,000-plus strong network of Wi-Fi access points across the country, allowing qualified residential broadband subs to access them automatically.
Comcast Business yesterday unveiled its own deployment of the same Cisco-made dual SSID gateways, which it calls the Business Wireless Gateway. Like TWC, Comcast is configuring the “free” gateways to supply both internal networking for staff, “amenity Wi-Fi” for customers, and a public-facing Xfinity Wi-Fi network connection available to qualified Xfinity residential data subscribers. Comcast identifies retailers, restaurants, laws firms, real estate offices, gyms, and libraries as examples of businesses well-suited for the new devices. The additions will help the company reach its stated target of 8 million Xfinity Wi-Fi locations by the end of 2014.
In a statement, John Guillaume, vice president of product development, Comcast Business, said many of those businesses, “want to attract and retain visitors to their location and give employees the tools they need to be more productive. Wi-Fi can be critical on both fronts, and this device can help make that easy to manage.”
The Business Wireless Gateway gives businesses the ability to separate back-office and public signals easily, Comcast said. Businesses can customize access rules for their own customers, while the public Wi-Fi service provides unlimited access to Xfinity customers using registered devices. Non-Xfinity customers logging on to the quasi-public “xfinitywifi” network connection are limited to two hours per month. When a non-subscriber goes over that allotment, they can choose to buy more time. While prices may vary across the country, in its Indiana system the company offers hourly passes for $2.95, daily passes for $7.95 and weekly passes for $19.
Comcast said the new gateway is included in most of its business Internet plans. According to a Comcast spokesperson interviewed in Channel Partners magazine, the gateway and managed Wi-Fi services are available nationwide, and included with Deluxe 50 or above business Internet plans or with Starter Internet if it is part of a bundle with voice or video.
“We are making the Business Wireless Gateway available nationwide because research has proven time and again that Wi-Fi is a game changer for brick and mortar based small businesses,” said Guillaume.
In what appears to be a shift in policy, Comcast will also make its millions of Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots available to commercial customers. According to the announcement, ”Businesses will receive two logins to access millions of Xfinity WiFi hotspots for business or personal purposes while on the go.”
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