For years, a number of the larger cable-based Internet providers have placed WiFi hotspots around the country for their customers to use when not in the comfort of their own home, but you had to find a hotspot operated by your ISP. Today, five of those companies — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Cablevision, and Cox Communications — have announced that their customers will all soon be able to all use the same hotspots. But will people use them — and will this actually make some of the problems worse?
Given that “unlimited” mobile data is quickly becoming a thing of the past, having access to data services in public that don’t eat up our monthly allotments is a good thing. It helps us not go over and it keeps the wireless companies from crying “crunch!”
However, as almost anyone who has used a hotspot in a park/airport/hotel can attest, they tend to be spotty and often offer speeds that harken back to the days of dial-up. Unless the cable companies are also making significant improvements on the back end to speed things up, the problem seems likely to only get worse if more people suddenly have access to these hotspots.
Of course, you still need to find a hotspot. Even if you have your wireless device set to identify available WiFi, you would need to constantly check the list of networks to see if you are in one that is available for you to use. The joint announcement from the companies mentions that customers will have some way of automatically joining available networks in the future, though it doesn’t mention how it hopes to achieve this or give a timeline.
Right now, each company has its own network names — and they each have separate online maps/locators — but all 50,000 hotspots will eventually be brought under the name of “Cable WiFi,” which is a nice idea. Of course, we expect this will result in an increased number of scammers setting up bogus hotspots with the “Cable WiFi” name.
So while we applaud the Internet providers for deciding to make their hotspots available to each others’ customers, we also hope those companies are preparing for the uptick in usage — after all, only a reported 30% of Cablevision customers have used its hotspots in the last four years — and that consumers are more vigilant about making sure the network they’re joining the real deal.
Major U.S. Cable Companies Join Forces on WiFi [Press Release]