Cox Communications, the nation's third largest cable operator, is taking on AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which have been slowly expanding into Cox's TV territory.
On Nov. 19, the company introduced "Unbelievable Fair," a bundled mobile phone and high-speed Internet service being extended to three regions: Hampton Roads, Va.; Omaha, Neb.; and Orange County, Calif. The privately owned company will be testing whether there's a market for the so-called quadruple play-phone, wireless services, TV and Web-when gone about in a way that eliminates "unfair" practices.
Cox will be the first wireless carrier to credit customers' bills for minutes that go unused each month-5 cents for each unused minute, up to $20-versus carrying over the minutes to the next month or having customers simply "lose" the minutes.
"Wireless consumers have long been underserved on customer service," Stephen Bye, Cox's vice president of wireless, said in a statement. "We went a step further by introducing new services and features to the Cox bundle that were built on fairness."
Unlike competitors Time Warner Cable and Comcast, which rely on Clearwire's WiMax 4G network, Cox has struck a deal with Sprint to use its 3G network. It'll pair the Sprint service with several Android-running smartphones, including the HTC Desire, the Motorola Milestone, the LG Axis, the HTC Hero and the HTC Wildfire.
Also available will be the Samsung Messenger Touch, the Samsung Profile, a number of feature phones and the Cox On-the-Go modem.
Cox also plans to send customers free text messages, called Usage Alerts, when they approach the maximum number of minutes and messages on their plan. The move is likely to be applauded by the Federal Communications Commission, which is looking to address consumer concerns and frustrations about unanticipated overage fees and may consider making such alerts an industry requirement.
Additionally, to "sweeten the reward," Cox will offer a free upgrade-such as a premium entertainment channel, like HBO-to existing customers who choose to add wireless to their account.
Trained staff-"Solutions Educators"-will be available to help customers navigate and make the most of their services bundles, such as teaching them how to program their DVR from their device.
"We recognize that we have some very formidable competitors in this space," Bye told the Wall Street Journal, adding that 24 percent of Cox customers have reportedly said that they're willing to switch to its mobile service.
Competitor Time Warner, along with Sprint, announced Oct. 18 that it will offer its own branded 4G services via Clearwire. While Time Warner plans to offer nationwide 3G service, with 4G where it's available, Cox, reports the Journal, only plans to offer its service in areas where it operates. It also declined to comment on what it's paying Sprint in the deal, and what its sales expectations for the service are.
The Cox mobile service starts at $39.99 a month and includes free mobile-to-mobile calling between Cox cell phones and landlines.
Earlier this year, Cox Business, a division of Cox Communications, began offering a backup service to its Internet customers, particularly focusing on SMBs.