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January 27, 2015

Cablevision's Freewheel Brings Wi-Fi Phone Service to Users

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

The use of voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone service has been a part of the computing landscape since even the days of dial-up Internet access, offering the ability to route voice calls to far-off countries with a simple dial-in followed by some reconnecting. While the concept has had its share of ups and downs almost since its launch, it's been making something of a comeback of late. Cablevision, meanwhile, is set to bring Wi-Fi-driven phone service to its users by way of a system known as Freewheel, but not without a few conditions to attach.

Freewheel is offered up to its customer base starting at $9.95 a month for current Cablevision subscribers, but that's where things start getting a bit sticky. Those who sign up for Freewheel as a standalone service, meanwhile, will pay $29.95 a month, and neither of those monthly prices include the $99 required to buy a Moto G phone, which is apparently the only device that can access the Freewheel service. What's more, the phone won't actually work out of Wi-Fi range, making its impact somewhat limited, but on the up side, Cablevision will be providing access to the Optimum Wi-Fi network to those who sign up for Freewheel, meaning 1.1 million hotspots suddenly become available.

Cablevision is just one of many companies looking to take advantage of the increasing move to Wi-Fi service; T-Mobile offered Wi-Fi calling back in September of last year, while Sprint also offers the service. Verizon and AT&T (News - Alert), meanwhile, are set to start offering said services this year, meanwhile, and these are just some of the firms involved in the field. Cablevision's CEO, James Dolan, even provided some comment on the release, saying “As a company, we are focused on providing services for these consumers and solidifying our position as the New York market’s premier connectivity company. Freewheel is the next leap forward in the advancement of the connected lifestyle, and our Optimum (News - Alert) Wi-Fi network and the prevalence of Wi-Fi nationwide serves as its foundation.”

While this is certainly a smart move for Cablevision, and Cablevision's customers will no doubt be interested, the question becomes one of overall use cases. There are already a great many options out there for VoIP service, so what distinguishes Cablevision's from all the rest? Many are quick to point to Google (News - Alert) Voice, now a part of Hangouts, which is a free service that can be used from anywhere where voice service is on hand. But given that Cablevision seems to be more of a regional provider, geared toward New Jersey, New York—but not strictly New York City, as that's more of a Time Warner (News - Alert) Cable operation at last report—and Connecticut, it could be that this is more of a smart regional play.

Still, one thing is clear: Freewheel will have a lot of competition going into this market, as many players are not only already there, but some of the biggest in the field are poised to join in the fray fairly soon. That's not exactly good news for Cablevision, and considering the deal it's got on hand it may well find itself swamped by a variety of services from Google Voice to MagicJack. Only time will tell just how well it works out, of course, and in the end, the consumer is the one most likely to win for the sheer number of options that will be on hand.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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