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Freewheel, Cablevision's Wi-Fi-only phone service, goes on sale

The company tries taking on wireless carriers with what it claims is the first all Wi-Fi phone service from a cable provider.

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Freewheel for now offers its service only with the Motorola Moto G smartphone. Cablevision

Cablevision has officially stepped into the mobile business, saying Thursday that its new Wi-Fi-only phone service, Freewheel, is now on sale.

The New York-based cable TV company first revealed the new service late last month, presenting it as a potential alternative to wireless carriers such as Verizon or AT&T. Customers can now order the service online at Freewheel.com for a monthly fee of $30 -- though Cablevision's Optimum Internet customers can get it for $10 a month.

Cablevision claims Freewheel is the country's first all Wi-Fi service from a cable provider. Though it may offer lower costs for some wireless customers, the service has some obvious limitations. For example, customers ordering the service can currently choose only one phone, the Motolora Moto G, for $100. Also, while Freewheel will work anywhere a Wi-Fi signal is available, there's no backup cellular network to jump on in other cases, so the phone won't operate without a Wi-Fi connection.

Since Cablevision has no cell towers at its disposal, the company cannot provide the same level of service one would find on a 4G LTE network from wireless carriers.

Still, the service offers a unique approach to owning a smartphone and provides unlimited talk, text and data as part of the monthly cost (international calls are extra, though). As more people keep using more data and Wi-Fi signals propagate, Freewheel could prove to gain in popularity, though it has a long way to go against the major wireless carriers.

The service is available for sale nationally, but new users in the New York tristate area will have the extra benefit of automatic access to 1.1 million Optimum Wi-Fi hotspots Cablevision already offers its customers.

Freewheel isn't likely to replace people's existing smartphone service, said Amy Young, analyst for Macquarie Research, but it could find success as an inexpensive household phone for teenagers and other users.

She added that Freewheel probably won't be a big moneymaker for Cablevision, though the additional service to its cable, home phone and Internet offerings could help it prevent more people from canceling their cable.

"If they're successful, it could encourage their peers to follow," Young said.