In a move to try and displease cell phone companies, Cablevision has announced its plan to sell a WIFI only mobile phone service. Dubbed Freewheel, not to be confused with the Comcast-owned enterprise service, FreeWheel (a capital W changes everything), Cablevision sees a market for low cost mobile phone customers. Cablevision customers can add on this new service for only $9.95/month while non-Cablevision customers can subscribe for less than $30 a month. The service has one phone choice at the moment, the Motorola Moto G.
Certainly, the $10 a month price point undercuts all other cell phone carriers so the ideal market is Cablevision's own footprint where it has been expanding its WIFI capabilities. But will the new service attract a sizable customer base to call it a successful business idea? The low price point may sway some but as a society we have becoming increasingly mobile and the service will certainly have more dead spots than any cellular service. And with cell companies already in a price war to attract new customers, coupled with more choices of smartphones, the Cablevision price difference without great connectivity, may not matter.
My other question is how is Cablevision planning to sell its service. Has it gotten Best Buy or Target to offer it in any of its stores? Cablevision once tried to enter the electronic business itself when it bought and ran Nobody Beats The Wiz for a number of years. That chain is now a memory. Cablevision could try to sell its phone in its own service centers but they don't tend to be too retail friendly either. Online might be a consideration but consumers like to touch and try before buying; isn't that why the Apple stores are so successful.
Cablevision's push into a WIFI phone seems one more attempt to compete with Verizon who overbuilds it across almost all of its franchise markets. And while WIFI certainly augments the capabilities of a smartphone, the ability to be always available to accept a call or text may limit the appeal of a WIFI only phone. Can Cablevision make it a successful business... I wonder.