Cablevision to introduce true Wi-Fi-only mobile service

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It’s hard to go anywhere in an urban environment these days without running into public Wi-Fi hotspots. There are so many, in fact, that Cablevision believes it can offer a purely Wi-Fi based mobile phone service.

The Internet and cable TV provider will offer an all Wi-Fi talk, text, and data service starting in February, according to GiagaOm. The new service, called Freewheel, will be available to Cablevision subscribers for $10 a month and non-Cablevision customers can sign-up for $30 per month.

This won’t be like other Wi-Fi focused competitors such as FreedomPop and Republic Wireless. Those services currently route calls and texts via Wi-Fi when possible but fallback on Sprint’s wireless network when Wi-Fi is not available.

Freewheel will reportedly not do this. If you’re somewhere without a Wi-Fi connection, no service will be available. FreedomPop recently announced a similar Wi-Fi only service for $5 per month. The company also plans to sell a Wi-Fi only phone later in 2015.

Freewheel will be available nationwide, but GigaOm says Cablevision will focus its marketing efforts on the company’s primary markets: New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Why this matters: Offering a Wi-Fi-only mobile service is a bold move even with the proliferation of hotspots. But Cablevision apparently believes it’s got what it takes. The company has more than one million access points on its home turf that are freely available to Cablevision Internet subscribers. Like Comcast, Cablevision also uses subscribers’ home routers as a public hotspot by adding a separate connection point on the same router. Cablevision subscribers can also get nationwide free Wi-Fi at another 300,000 hotspots via the Cable WiFi group—a network of hotspots nationwide provided by Bright House, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox, and TimeWarner Cable.

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When it launches, the phone choices for Freewheel will be limited to one phone: the Moto G. Freewheel will sell the budget smartphone for $100, which is a little bit cheaper than the current unlocked asking price of $180.

The handset will come with apps that automatically authenticate with Cablevision hotspots, GigaOm reports. We reviewed the 2014 iteration of the Moto G last fall and called it the best smartphone you can get under $200.

While Freewheel may not offer a cellular fallback plan, it may be possible for smart shoppers to create their own. Presumably, Freewheel’s Moto G will still have all the components necessary to connect to a mobile network.

If the device also comes unlocked, which may not be the case, you could sign-up for pay-as-you-go mobile service as a fallback. It’s not clear if Freewheel hardware will allow you to do that, but that option would encourage more people to take a chance on a Wi-Fi only service—even in places where Wi-Fi is plentiful like New York City.

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