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Cablevision to build Wi-Fi network

Cablevision said Thursday it plans to build a regional Wi-Fi network in parts of its cable footprint to extend its broadband service.

Cablevision is building a Wi-Fi broadband network in the New York area, the company said Thursday.

The company said it will use wireless mesh technology to build a high-speed Wi-Fi network that will cover parts of its cable footprint in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. The new network will take two years to complete. And the company thinks it can build it relatively cheaply spending roughly $100 per subscriber, Chief Operating Officer Thomas Rutledge said during the company's quarterly earnings call Thursday.

Cablevision's approach is very different from other citywide or regional Wi-Fi projects that cities and other service providers such as EarthLink have attempted. EarthLink was a leader in the citywide Wi-Fi movement, winning big contracts in cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco. But the company pulled out of the Wi-Fi business after it realized it couldn't make money from the service.

Cablevision doesn't see the new Wi-Fi service as a separate moneymaking venture. The company plans to offer the service for free to its regular broadband subscribers--the idea being that adding the Wi-Fi network capability will help attract and retain customers of its regular broadband service. Customers with Wi-Fi-enabled laptops will be able to take their broadband service with them.

Other customers with Wi-Fi enabled phones, like the iPhone, will also be able to leverage the Cablevision Wi-Fi network as an added benefit to being a Cablevision broadband subscriber. Wi-Fi users will get download speeds of 1.5 megabits per second the company said.

The other added advantage that Cablevision has over companies like EarthLink or some cities that have tried to build their own Wi-Fi networks is that the company already owns a high-speed Internet infrastructure that can be accessed by the Wi-Fi radios.

Cablevision's Wi-Fi news comes a day after Comcast and Time Warner Cable announced they were contributing billions of dollars to a new joint venture to help Sprint Nextel and Clearwire build a national WiMax network.

Together these announcements make it clear that cable operators see wireless and mobility as an important piece of their strategies. As the competition with phone companies AT&T and Verizon Communications heats up, cable operators say they need to differentiate their services and extend their service outside the home.

I'll be taking a more in depth look at the cable operators' wireless and mobility strategies in the next few days. So stay tuned.