Observers for decades have suggested that, one day, Wi-Fi might provide the access infrastructure for what we now know as “mobile phone service.”
To be sure, several firms, including Illiad’s Free Mobile in France, as well as Republic Wireless and Scratch Wireless in the U.S. market, have used a “Wi-fi-first” model that defaults to mobile network access when necessary.
What is interesting is the coming launch, by Cablevision Systems Corp., of a Wi-Fi-only mobile service that relies exclusively on Wi-Fi access to a mobile phone. Cablevision Systems Corporation will launch Freewheel, a new low-cost, all-Wi-Fi phone service in the first quarter of 2015, and possibly as early as February. In other words, unlike some other services that rely on Wi-Fi, but default to mobile networks, Freewheel will operate exclusively using Wi-Fi.
In essence, Freewheel is launching using a pattern described by management professor Clayton Christensen, where disruptors enter a market “on the low end,” with offerings that offer clear value for some customers, but do not have all the features, or necessary the performance, of the market-leading offers.
The expectation is that, over time, as the upstart service gains traction, it starts to upgrade capabilities, until, in the end, the feature set and presumed value are equivalent to the market leaders.
Freewheel is the first all-Wi-Fi service to be introduced by a U.S. cable provider and will be offered with the Motorola Moto G smartphone, selling for $99.95.
Freewheel customers also will have automatic access to the Optimum Wi-Fi network of 1.1 million hotspots. The no-contract service will work anywhere in the world where Wi-Fi is accessible.
Whatever might happen in the future, the first service provider is launching a Wi-Fi-only mobile service. We hope to be discussing this issue at Spectrum Futures, in Singapore in September 2015.