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Wi-Fi Voice Heats Up

In a No Jitter post last week, I reported on Google's plans to resell wireless services from Sprint and T-Mobile and move itself into the information delivery chain. The story continues to unfold, and it now appears the company's intention is to deliver a best-availability service of the two depending on the user's immediate area. That's interesting enough, but Google isn't the only newbie in the wireless game -- Cablevision wants in, too.

Earlier this week the Long Island, N.Y.-based cable TV provider announced it will offer a pure Wi-Fi-based voice service initially in the New York area with plans to expand nationwide.

Freewheelin' Wi-Fi
Cablevision happens to be my cable company (as well as my Internet and business phone provider) so I have been watching up close for a number of years. While Cablevision is only the eighth largest cable company in the U.S., with about 3 million lines compared to king-of-the-hill Comcast and its 23 million lines, it has long been one of the most technically adventuresome. Ours was one of the first areas in the country to get cable modem service as well as cable voice service. In addition, Cablevision pioneered network-based digital video recording and was an early partner in the nationwide CableWiFi consortium -- it has 1.3 million Wi-Fi hotspots.

Cablevision has dubbed its new wireless service Freewheel, through which it will offer its cable TV customers unlimited data, talk, and text for $9.95 per month; the price will be $29.95 per month for non-customers. Initially it will support only one model device, Motorola's Moto G, which it will sell for $99.95. With the service Cablevision obviously will leverage its public hotspots, but it also plans for dual-SSID home hotspots.

Wi-Fi Voice Party
The idea of Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi/cellular voice services isn't that new. Back in 2011 I wrote here about Republic Wireless, a company that offers a combo service for $19 per month, but stipulates that it'll boot you off the network if too much of your usage winds up on cellular. Another provider, Scratch Wireless, has a free Wi-Fi service and sells cellular voice and data "passes" if you need cellular connectivity; that service uses the Motorola Photon Q handset.

To help with the Wi-Fi part of things, Devicescape, which I wrote about back in 2012, has been putting together what it calls a Curated Virtual Network. Essentially devices running the Devicescape software would automatically join this "network" of open Wi-Fi hotspots.

Pleasing Business Users
Such services will have greater appeal to consumers than business users, who require connectivity to be productive and cannot have calls going to voicemail because they're not in range of an available hotspot. In the case of Wi-Fi-only offerings, you may have to stay stationary to ensure your connection doesn't drop -- and you can probably forget having service in a moving vehicle altogether. We do have a Wi-Fi QoS capability (via the IEEE 802.11e/Wi-Fi Multi Media specification, but I'm not clear on whether Cablevision will be using it. The Wi-Fi/cellular option keeps you connected, but being a wireless operator means more than making connections.

As for the proposed Google offering, its biggest Achilles heel may well be customer service. Self-service is fine for most of what Google provides, but wireless customers require considerably more handholding. Website GetHuman gives Google's customer service number -- (650) 623-4000 -- a ranking of 1.7 out of 5.

What these new options do for the business user, however, is keep pressure on the mobile operators. With cheap offerings nipping at their heels and significant capital demands to continue acquiring spectrum and building out their 4G LTE networks, the nationwide carriers are in a bind. The response from the mobile operators has been data plans that come with unlimited talk and text and pooled data plans that are catching on in enterprises. One such plan that I worked on recently saved the client more than 40% on its monthly bill -- sounds like more pressure.

These new Wi-Fi optimized services are appealing, and can probably offer better performance than LTE, but enterprise customers will likely be more satisfied with those that include a cellular safety net.

By the way, we will be talking a lot about these new offerings during the mobility track at Enterprise Connect Orlando March 16-19, including a session on the challenges of getting real-time UC services like Microsoft's Lync/Skype for Business to work on Wi-Fi.

Join Michael at Enterprise Connect Orlando and save $300 on conference passes when you register today with discount code: NJSPEAKER.

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