Freewheel WiFi-Only Smartphone Service Now Available

Freewheel users will get unlimited talk, text and data on their smartphones for $29.95 a month, but they can only use the phones on a WiFi network. There's no cellular service option.

Freewheel, WiFi, smartphones

Cablevision has launched its WiFi-only Freewheel smartphone service across the nation, offering consumers all the talk, text and data they want to use for $29.95 a month—as long as they use their new Freewheel smartphones with a WiFi connection.

Freewheel, which so far works only with Motorola Moto G smartphones that can be purchased through Cablevision at a discounted price of $99.95 as part of the service, will work anywhere in the world where WiFi is available, the company said in a Feb. 5 announcement.

So far, Freewheel phones and service plans can be obtained at the company's Website.

Cablevision, which provides cable television and Internet services to millions of customers in the New York City metropolitan area, first announced the Freewheel offering in January as a direct competitor to traditional 3G and 4G cellular mobile phone services, according to an earlier eWEEK report.

"Cellular was built for voice and WiFi was built for data, which is why WiFi is the preferred choice for data usage today," Kristin Dolan, the chief operating officer of Cablevision, said in a statement. "Freewheel integrates a high quality device backed by the strength of our professionally maintained carrier-grade WiFi network. As the thirst for data continues to grow, Freewheel provides consumers with a better, faster data experience, all at a fraction of the cost of cellular."

Some 80 percent of smartphone data usage today is already done over WiFi networks, according to the company.

A discounted price of $9.95 per month for Freewheel services is being offered to Cablevision customers who are already using Cablevision's Optimum Online cable services.

Additional Freewheel service features will be introduced over the next few months by the company. The new service offers a 30-day refund policy and no annual contracts or commitments for consumers. International calling plans are also available.

The Freewheel calling plan includes "truly unlimited data, talk and text, unlike many so-called 'unlimited' cellular plans," the company states. "Freewheel is always 'all you can eat,' with no overage charges, ever."

Some 1.1 million hotspots that are available through Cablevision's Optimum Online services will automatically be available to users of Freewheel.

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 are 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.

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.