Cablevision has clearly hit on something big with its free Wi-Fi hotspots. Recording more than three million access requests per month, the cableco’s free wireless service in the New York/New Jersey area appears to be in no danger of losing steam. In fact, the company now has a proposal out to expand Wi-Fi access to the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North commuter trains (via Broadband Reports). Service would be free to Cablevision subscribers, and the operator would offer a “reasonable access option” for non-subscribers.
Free Wi-Fi is a benefit to consumers on two levels: it enables Internet access for people without mobile broadband connections, and it avoids the issue of usage caps on personal data plans. At the same time, wireless carriers like Wi-Fi because it offloads traffic from their networks. Mobile broadband capacity is rapidly becoming a problem now that smartphone and tablet connections are on the rise, and it’s only going to get worse. Analyst Paul Kapustka in his most recent report quotes FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski saying that, “data from multiple sources… tell us to expect a 40-fold increase in mobile Internet demand over the next five years.”
So what happens with Wi-Fi next? Lots. First of all, there continues to be a significant amount of development work taking place to make Wi-Fi faster and give it more features. Second, more operators are looking at Wi-Fi strategies after observing the consumer demand that Cablevision has demonstrated. Wi-Fi is a 25-year-old technology, but it’s still going strong.