Cox Communications is aiming for March to launch its wireless service, the company said Wednesday.
The cable operator is initially partnering with Sprint Nextel to resell its wireless service to customers. Cox already bundles high-speed Internet, telephony, and TV. Wireless service will create a quadruple play.
The company hasn't announced pricing yet but has said that the service will launch first in three markets: Hampton Roads, Va.; Omaha, Neb.; and Orange County, Calif. In total, Cox serves roughly 1.45 million cable subscribers in these markets.
Unlike Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which have invested in a company building a nationwide wireless network, Cox is building its own wireless network.
Cox is merely reselling Sprint's service initially to get into the market more quickly. It is also using the $550 million worth of spectrum it bought in the Federal Communication Commission's AWS and the 700 MHz wireless auctions to build its own 3G network using EV-DO, and it will eventually migrate to 4G LTE technology.
Wireless is a key feature for any service provider these days as consumers expect mobility for their voice, Internet, and even video services. Cox views wireless as a crucial element in its strategy to compete with phone companies, which not only have wireless divisions but are also selling paid TV services that compete directly with cable.
Cox has tried to get into the wireless market in the past. In 2005, Cox, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Advance/Newhouse Communications formed a joint venture with Sprint Nextel called Pivot, which was supposed to develop wireless services that the cable operators could bundle and resell to their customers. Three years later, the Pivot brand was essentially dead.
Last year, all the companies involved pulled out of the partnership completely. Comcast and Time Warner are now backing a joint venture formed between Sprint and Clearwire. Comcast is fronting $1.05 billion and Time Warner Cable is putting in $500 million to help make a reality a combined Sprint/Clearwire wireless network that uses a 4G wireless technology called WiMax.
Cox and the other Pivot cable companies also formed a joint venture called Spectrum Co. that bid on and won significant amounts of spectrum in the FCC's AWS auction. Cox is now the only one out of the four cable operators that formed Spectrum Co. to use the spectrum to build its own network to cover its existing cable footprint.
Cox's latest strategy is quite different from what it has done in the past. But building a wireless network is expensive, and competing in an already saturated market is difficult. More than 89 percent of Americans already subscribe to some kind of wireless service, according to wireless trade group CTIA. And because Cox only owns wireless spectrum in and around its existing cable footprint, it will always need to partner with other wireless carriers to provide nationwide coverage.