Is Illiad Free Mobile the Cable Blueprint for Mobile Service?

Some observers had thought Sprint would the mobile service provider to launch a disruptive attack on U.S. market packaging and pricing. Instead, T-Mobile US has usurped that role.

But more disruption is certain to come. As part of the CableWiFi effort, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications and Cablevision allow roaming for all of their subscribers to the public Wi-Fi footprint of perhaps 200,000 hotspots.

But more is coming, as Comcast and Cablevision already are introducing at-home routers that support both the subscriber’s private Internet access as well as a new public network. That would mean millions of new public hotspots supported by the cable networks.

In 2010, Cablevision Systems Corp. began testing dual-mode phones able to access both Wi-Fi and mobile networks, something firms such as Republic Wireless and Scratch Wireless already have commercialized.

In other words, Iliad’s Free Mobile, which disrupted the French mobile market, appears to be the model for U.S. cable operators looking to enter the mobile business. Free has based its service on similar public Wi-Fi connections enabled by its fixed network customer high speed access connections, while using wholesale mobile capacity for connectivity when no usable Wi-Fi connection is available.

Free grabbed four percent market share in about three months after launch. By the end of 2013, Free had eight million customers, about 12 percent share of the French market, just behind Bouygues.
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