Cable Operators

Cablevision Optimizes Wi-Fi

11/08/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

Cable operators looking
to expand their
mobile and wireless
efforts should take a
close look at Cablevision
Systems’ Optimum
Wi-Fi service, which it bills
as the largest Wi-Fi deployment
in U.S. history.

Since the service launched in
October of 2008, Cablevision has
deployed more than 5,000 Wi-
Fi hot spots in cafés, bars, restaurants
and other businesses
throughout its footprint and set
up tens of thousands of additional
outdoor hot spots. Subscribers
to Cablevision broadband service
now spend nearly 7 million minutes
per day accessing Optimum
Wi-Fi product, available for free
to the MSO’s roughly 2.6 million
broadband subscribers.

“Usage growth continues to be
very rapid,” Cablevision senior
vice president of wireless development
Kevin Curran said. “Our
average user is accessing the service
from 15 to 25 times a month.
Right now, we are averaging 5 million
sessions a month, well over 1
million sessions a week,” up from
about 400,000 in January of 2010.

COMPETITIVE EDGE

The Wi-Fi strategy has been particularly
important for Cablevision,
given the tough competition
it faces from telco Verizon
Communications, which has
been aggressively rolling out its
FiOS TV, high-speed Internet
and mobile products throughout
Cablevision’s footprint.

“If you are an Optimum Online
customer at your home or office,
you are eligible for this service
for free, because we believe that
if you are paying for the product
at home you should be able
to use the product on the road as
well, unlike our competitors, who
make you pay while you’re on the
road,” Curran said.

Verizon and a number of other
wireless carriers already offer
3G cellular services in the region.
Cablevision worked to differentiate
its service by offering a product
that’s faster then cell phone
providers’ 3G data packages.

“We’ve increased the speed
once since we introduced the service
and we are trying to make
sure we are twice as fast as any
cellular service,” said Curran, who
noted that Cablevision currently
offering speeds of 3 Mbps downstream
and 1.5 Mbps upstream.

Verizon has said it will roll
out 4G services with muchfaster
data speeds in a number of
markets, including the New York
area. “When 4G comes out, we will
make sure we put the speeds at a
point where we can maintain our
speed advantage in the mobile
Internet space,” Curran said.

Aside from speed, Cablevision
has differentiated its Wi-Fi offering
in a number of ways. The MSO
is on track to add about 10,000 outdoor
hot spots just this year and
has added connectivity to a number
of major public venues, such
as Manhattan’s Madison Square
Garden and the Nassau Coliseum
in Uniondale, N.Y., where Optimum
Wi-Fi went live in October.

In January of 2010, Optimum
Wi-Fi introduced an automatic
sign-in service, which has significantly
boosted usage. In April, it
inked an agreement with the New
York area’s other large MSOs —
Time Warner Cable and Comcast
— that allows customers of all
three operators free Wi-Fi roaming
throughout each company’s
New York-area footprint.

“Last year, we also started to
use Optimum Wi-Fi for acquiring
small business,” Curran said. To
attract new business customers,
Cablevision will to install an Optimum
Wi-Fi access point in their
place of business for free and allow
the businesses’ customers to
access the hot spot for free if the
business takes Cablevision’s Optimum
Online business product.

“We have added many thousands
of these businesses in the
last year to our already tens of
thousands of access points outdoors,”
Curran said.

The product has even allowed
Cablevision to break into shopping
malls, traditionally a tough
sell because they are generally
served by the local phone company
and because mall owners don’t
want outside companies digging
up parking to connect their networks.

“By offering to put free Wi-Fi in
their malls, we’ve been able to get
into a couple of shopping malls,
and that allows us to begin selling
our services to the businesses,”
Curran said.

It’s difficult to gauge the Wi-
Fi service’s impact on churn,
customer retention or acquisition,
but J.D. Power & Associates
ranked Cablevision’s Optimum
Online service as No. 1 in customer
satisfaction among residential
high-speed data services
for 2010 in the East region, narrowly
beating Verizon’s FiOS
Internet service.

“It is a service that is easy to
market because it’s free and faster
than 3G,” Curran said. “So every
metric we look at is telling us that
it is having a very positive impact
on retention. In the last three or
four months, for example, the
number of positive mentions of
Optimum Wi-Fi has tripled on the
social media” platforms.

As impressive as these deployments
have been so far, Cablevision
has much bigger plans
moving forward.

Cablevision is currently working
closely with CableLabs and a
group of MSOs to finalize a system
whereby cable-modem subscribers
could roam throughout
the U.S. anywhere the local cable
company has set up a Wi-Fi
hot spot.

“We’d like to get all the MSOs
to come in with a roaming agreement,”
Curran said. “Our preferred
methodology would be
that it would be free roaming and
no exchange of money so that we
wouldn’t have to build up a lot of
infrastructure tracking it.”

RIDING THE RAILS

An even bigger project is Cablevision’s
plan to bring Wi-Fi
to commuter trains in New York
and New Jersey. Cablevision has
put forward detailed proposals
to put Wi-Fi on the Long Island
Rail Road and the Metro-North
Commuter Railroad lines run
by the Metropolitan Transit Authority,
as well as New Jersey
Transit’s train lines into Manhattan
— the three largest commuter-
rail services in the U.S.
Some 750,000 people commute
via the three rail lines each business
day.

“We think the Metropolitan
Transit Authority will make the
award [for Wi-Fi services] in the
first quarter of 2011 and we expect
to win,” Curran said.

Cablevision has also extensively
tested a Wi-Fi solution
in New Jersey and recently responded
to a request for proposals
to provide Wi-Fi service on
the NJ Transit lines.

In both New York and New Jersey,
Cablevision has offered to
build the Wi-Fi system for free.
Commuters who are already Optimum
Online customers could
use it for free and others would be
able to access it for minimal fees,
from $1.99 to $4.99.

“Next year we expect to be
involved in the largest railroad
Wi-Fi build in the world,”Curran
said. “It is very difficult engineering
but we think it could really
change the way people live.
Th e average commuter spends
50 minutes each way [on the
trip].

“If they could leave work a little
early and maybe leave some productive
time on the train, it could
really change their lives.”

September