Cablevision Unveils Freewheel WiFi-Only Phone Service

The new WiFi-only service will cost $29.95 a month and will allow users to receive unlimited talk, text and data as long as they can connect to a WiFi network.

Cablevision, Freewheel, WiFi

A new WiFi-only phone service has been unveiled by cable company Cablevision that will allow customers to use existing WiFi networks to receive unlimited talk, text and data for $29.95 a month, bypassing traditional 3G and 4G LTE wireless networks.

The new "Freewheel" WiFi phone service will begin nationwide in February and will allow users to leverage WiFi networks in their homes, workplaces and everywhere else for their mobile phone services, according to a Jan. 27 announcement by Cablevision.

Freewheel will be offered for use with Motorola Moto G smartphones that will be sold at a discounted price of $99.95 as part of the service and will work anywhere in the world where there is WiFi service, the company stated. Some 1.1 million hotspots that are available through Cablevision's Optimum Online services will automatically be available to users of Freewheel.

A discounted price of $9.95 per month for Freewheel will be offered to customers who are already using Cablevision's Optimum Online services, according to the company. Cablevision provides cable television and Internet services to millions of customers in the New York City metropolitan area. There will be no annual contract requirements for the service.

"Cablevision recognizes the growing shift to WiFi-driven consumer electronic devices and services," James L. Dolan, CEO of Cablevision, said in a statement. "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 WiFi network and the prevalence of WiFi nationwide serves as its foundation."

The Cablevision Freewheel program follows a similar move by wireless carrier T-Mobile in September 2014 when T-Mobile gave its customers the ability to make mobile calls using WiFi networks almost anywhere around the world, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The T-Mobile service was introduced to supplement T-Mobile's cellular network and to give customers phone capabilities when traditional cellular services were unavailable. The T-Mobile capabilities also free customers from wireless calling costs while traveling in foreign countries, since they can use free WiFi to place calls.

To make that service happen, T-Mobile provides free, special ASUS routers to customers that include the technology to bring the service into homes, while also helping to solve dead-spot cellular problems that many users experience. The devices are called T-Mobile Personal CellSpot routers that plug in with only a power cord and an Ethernet cable.

Cablevision said that its WiFi calling service is being made possible because of the investment it has been making in its own WiFi network in the New York City region since 2007.

"There has been a dramatic shift in how consumers use their mobile devices; today, it's all about data, and WiFi is now preferred and clearly superior to cellular," Kristin Dolan, chief operating officer of Cablevision, said in a statement. "Freewheel is powered by the strength of our Optimum WiFi network integrated with a high-quality device to deliver a breakthrough service for truly unlimited data, talk and text without the high costs imposed by cellular providers."

Cablevision's move could add pressure to other mobile phone carriers to offer competing lower-cost WiFi-enabled services if consumers latch on to this idea. The T-Mobile WiFi move late last year certainly added a wrinkle in the marketplace, and competitors will have to eye how consumers react to this latest move by Cablevision. If it garners market share and customers in the future, then it's an idea that traditional cellular carriers will certainly have to evaluate more closely.

At the same time, though, those carriers face certain risks to their financial bottom lines if use-based cellular revenues, which allow them to charge more to customers based on the amount of data, texts and calling they are billed for each month, would drop in the future.