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Cablevision Offers First Wi-Fi-Only Mobile Plan

The $30 plan for unlimited talk, text, and data is a fraction of the price of normal plans–but offers zero service between Wi-Fi hotspots.

Cablevision Offers First Wi-Fi-Only Mobile Plan
[Photo: Flickr user Jon Seidman]

Cablevision Systems is announcing a low-cost mobile phone plan that routes calls and data via Wi-Fi instead of traditional cellular communication networks, the first such plan proposed by a cable company.

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The plan, called Freewheel, would offer unlimited data, talking, and texting worldwide for $29.95 per month, or $9.95 for customers of Cablevision’s Optimum Internet service. The only catch: Freewheel customers must use a Motorola Moto G smartphone, which retails for $99.95.

Well, not the only catch: While Cablevision has been building out a network of 1.1 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the New York City metropolitan area, the network is not robust enough to carry calls while on-the-go (aside from emergency communications). So the plan is remarkably economical if you don’t mind hotspot-hopping between calls, texts, and data services, including any non-SMS messaging services or social media.

“The big picture for us is the fundamental transformation in how people use their devices,” Cablevision’s chief operating officer Kristin Dolan told The New York Times. “It has been a migration in the past decade from voice to data.”

This shift came earlier than expected, the New York Times report continued: Experts assumed that cable companies would wait until Wi-Fi networks completely blanketed a coverage area, thus avoiding the gaps that Cablevision’s Freewheel customers will encounter.

More interesting is Cablevision’s decision not to partner with a mobile telecom company to fill in those gaps. Instead, it seems Cablevision wants to jump ahead in the game and get its service in the hands of folks who only need data: those in bad cellular coverage areas, or who are concerned about reaching their data limit, or who don’t mind sacrificing seamless access for lower-priced plans.

Even though Cablevision is a smaller player in the national cable game, covering New York City, New Jersey, and parts of Connecticut and Pennsylvania, its jump into the data game is a smart move–especially in anticipation of Google’s rumored data-only mobile phone service, Nova. Unlike Cablevision’s Wi-Fi-only plan, Google Nova is allegedly planning to connect its customers by buying wholesale access to cellular networks of Sprint and T-Mobile.

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