Not too long ago, Cablevision, the New York-based cable operator, launched a Wi-Fi-based service called Freewheel to offer data-only services to customers at competitive rates. Freewheel, however, did not come with any cellular service and was meant only for those who needed to browse on the move. A year down the line, Cablevision is shutting down Freewheel, highlighting the difficulties faced by cable operators who are trying to find their way into the wireless market. The move also comes at a time when Cablevision is set to be taken over by Dutch telecom giant Altice in a deal worth $17.7 billion. Altice acquired Suddenlink nine months ago in a deal worth $9.1 billion and is trying to drastically reduce costs to ease its debt burden which is expected to touch $50 billion by the end of this year.
The shutting down of Freewheel, which seems to be the first among a slew of cost-cutting measures being implemented by Altice, should serve as an eye-opener for other cable operators who are looking at the wireless market with renewed interest. While Comcast is rumored to launch its own Wi-Fi service later this year, it will also participate in FCC's upcoming auction of 600 MHz spectrum with a view to offer its own internet services rather than depending on an existing MVNO deal with Verizon. Following its acquisition of Time Warner Cable, Charter is now the second-largest cable operator in the U.S. after Comcast and its CEO Tom Routledge recently said that the company plans to offer nationwide wireless services soon. Incidentally, Altice is preparing a potential bid to acquire Charter next year to become the largest cable operator in the U.S. but its regional Chief has suggested that the company is not in a rush to pursue Charter, but will carry out a couple of meaningful acquisitions before thinking about it.
Given that Wi-Fi data will not be available everywhere, companies like Google have launched or are launching services which enable smooth transition between Wi-Fi and cellular data. An example of such initiatives is Google's Fi service which is based on a partnership with T-Mobile and Sprint. Given that cable companies like Comcast, Cablevision, Charter and Cox own thousands of public Wi-Fi hotspots, their partnership with existing cellular operators will ensure that customers will not have to suffer loss of data owing to a lack of hotspot zones and smooth transitioning between hotspot and cellular data will ensure a constant availability of data, no matter where they are.