Comcast may have lamented its lousy customer service at Wednesday’s Senate hearings on its proposed merger with Time Warner, but it could be argued that the company’s product is getting better all the time. And it may be expanding its product line soon to include cell phone service.
Just as wireless giants AT&T and Verizon have moved into the television business with their U-verse and FiOS digital TV services, the cable company Comcast is reportedly thinking of moving into the wireless business.
According to tech news publication The Information, Comcast, the country’s largest cable operator, is quietly laying the groundwork for a Wi-Fi-based mobile phone service. It would rely on a combination of Wi-Fi and leased capacity on cellular networks. Simply put, calls would be made over Wi-Fi, switching over to cellular when no Wi-Fi is available.
The hybrid Wi-Fi-slash-cellular model is similar to what Republic Wireless has done, as aWashington Post blog points out. Known as “inverting the network” — that is, making Wi-Fi primary and cell service secondary — it has cut down on costs, allowing Republic Wireless customers to pay for cell plans starting at just $5 a month. However, Wi-Fi phone connections may not be as reliable as a high-quality cellular network.
Meanwhile, a couple of announcements Wednesday by the company were overshadowed by the Senate hearing.
Comcast has increased the speeds of two Xfinity Internet tiers in the Northeast: Xfinity Internet Blast now offers speeds of up to 105 Mbps, up from 50 Mbps; and Xfinity Extreme 105 has been bumped to 150 Mbps from 105 Mbps.
The upgrade comes at no extra cost, and applies to customers in 14 Northeastern states from Maine to Virginia and the District of Columbia. Comcast said this hike marks the 13th time in 12 years that Comcast has raised its Web speeds, and the second time in two years that the Blast tier has doubled.
While Cablevision was an early proponent of Wi-Fi services, Comcast has aggressively added access points across its systems over the past few years. Yesterday Cohen wrote in his blog that while Comcast had 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots, Time Warner Cable only had 29,000.
Comcast has taken a three-pronged approach to deploying hot spots across heavily trafficked areas outdoors, in businesses and in customers’ neighborhoods. As part of its neighborhood hotspot initiative, Comcast has been handing out wireless gateways that have a second signal that allows others to access an in-home hot spot without passwords. The second signal is separate and secure from the homeowner’s own Wi-Fi signal.
Other Comcastic headlines:
Why conservatives oppose the merger: Even conservatives on the committee expressed some skepticism at the proposed merger. In general, Republicans usually support the telecommunications industry’s complaints against the restrictions of net neutrality and oppose government regulation of the industry. “Considering the significant share of the video and Internet market Comcast has, and considering the well-known political leanings of NBC, I’ve heard concern that Comcast might have the incentive and the ability to discriminate against certain political content,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah, a tea party favorite and one of the Senate’s most conservative members. A coalition of 13 conservative organizations, including TheTeaPary.net and Let Freedom Ring, also joined the chorus of concern, saying market forces are needed to develop innovation and push down prices. (Christian Science Monitor)
Seattle mayor pushes back: Internet service in Seattle is “not dependable,” “cost prohibitive for many” and has “few if any competitive options, Mayor Ed Murray declared in a blog post on Wednesday morning. The mayor fired a warning shot — actually a carefully aimed salvo — across the bow of Comcast, with whom the Emerald City has a franchise agreement that expires on Jan. 20, 2016. Comcast heavily supported Murray in last fall’s mayoral campaign. “If we find that building our own municipal broadband is the best way forward for our citizens and for our city, then I will help lead the way,” Murray said. “It is shocking to me that the United States invented the Internet, but we have one of the biggest digital divides in the developed world, and are falling far behind other nations who have speeds much greater than ours. (SeattlePI)