Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Freewheel to Shut Down

Freewheel, the Wi-Fi-only mobile service offered by Cablevision Systems Corp., is going to be shut down. What that means about consumer demand for any “mobile” service with connectivity limitations is the issue.

“Cordless” phones seem to have been well understood by consumers, who understood the value was “no cor d” while inside the home, talking on a fixed voice service.

“Mobile” phones likewise seem exceptionally well understood, offering nearly-ubiquitous communications “anywhere,” out and about or at home.

The issue, for some decades, is whether there is a substantial market for some form of service intermediate between “full mobility” and “cordless.”

Personal Handy Phone is the best historical example of a type of service that Freewheel resembled. The idea was a service that was “more than at-home cordless, but less than fully mobile.” Or, to put it another way, PHP was essentially a cordless phone that would work at home and also outdoors, with call handoff at pedestrian speeds.

So far, consumer demand has been quite mixed, and Freewheel only seems to confirm that, so far, there is not a big market for services that are in between at-home cordless and full mobile service.

In comparison, “Wi-Fi first” services are full “mobile” services, the only distinction being the preference for connecting to Wi-Fi, if available, before connecting to a mobile network.

Freewheel always was going to be different, since it--like Personal Handy Phone--was not going to work everywhere, but only where Wi-Fi was available, as it had no ability to connect to a mobile network.

So, at least so far, Freewheel has reinforced past experience with cordless and mobile phone service. People seem to understand and want to use both those “phone” modes, but few seem willing to embrace the PHP model.

Few now are old enough to remember it, but "Personal Communications Service" based on use of frequencies in the 1.8 GHz range, now used only for mobile service, once were envisioned as supporting PHP style services. It did not catch on, and PCS simply became a band of frequencies used for full mobile service.

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