The wireless component in a cable operator’s service package is gaining momentum as not only a competitive must-have service, but also as an extension of the customer’s home network.

That was the consensus of the MSO panelists participating in last week’s Cable Show session, "AirPlay: Cable’s Wide-Open Wireless Future."

"We are halfway through our wireless network deployment, including Wi-Fi at a train station, and we’re working with the MTA and Long Island Railroad to put wireless in the trains themselves. It’s an extension of home service," said John Bickham, president of cable communications for Cablevision Systems.

Cablevision, he noted, is spending $300 million, or $120 per customer, for its data/wireless network, which is capable of providing both voice and video services as well. The complete buildout will be completed by the end of 2010, Bickham added.

Time Warner Cable is focusing its wireless attention on the company’s Clearwire partnership, which is building a national broadband wireless network using WiMAX technology. (Editor’s note: Clearwire announced a USB modem last Friday that links Wi-Fi products to the company’s mobile WiMAX service.)

Along with TWC, Comcast and Bright House Networks have invested in the Clearwire joint venture. Comcast COO Stephen Burke told the Portland Oregonian three weeks ago that it would like to resell Clearwire’s service in Portland, one of the first markets to launch.

At the NCTA session, Mike Roudi, group vice president of wireless services for TWC, said that from his perspective, the wireless network is expected to launch 4Q of 2009.

"We’re starting with data and VoIP applications. What charges us up is the ability to do true broadband high-speed. It’s the ‘inside-out’ strategy. We don’t think of wireless as the fourth leg of the quad-play, rather the triple-play in the home and outside," he said.

Clearwire, he added, has total responsibility for the RF and wireless network buildout, with TWC doing everything else such as billing, marketing and sales, customer care, and provisioning.

Adding a wireless play was a near no-brainer for Cox Communications, which according to Stephen Bye, Cox’s vice president of wireless strategy development, is "well down the road."

"We looked at wireless and decided we needed to be in it because of customer demand and our competitors are doing it. We had a false start with Pivot, but learned a lot. A third of our market is spending on wireless, and there is lots of opportunity in the voice market. Clearly, our customers wanted wireless from us," Bye said.

But for the wireless business to grow, some key strategies must be in place. "You must have leveraged assets, infrastructure, people and spectrum. And you need a brand, good customer relations and a product that customers understand," added Bye.

The result is a wide-open wireless future, for both residential and the business sector. Concluded Bickham: "There are lots of businesses that are ideal for inside Wi-Fi hot spots."

– Craig Kuhl, contributing editor

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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