Cablevision develops technology for WiFi-based mobile phone service

Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) has developed technology that could allow it to offer its Optimum subscribers access to a WiFi-based mobile phone service, according to a patent obtained by FierceCable.

The company, which has also obtained a trademark for the brand Optimum Mobile, could rely on its extensive WiFi network in the New York metropolitan area to carry mobile phone traffic, and roaming agreements with other carriers in areas that aren't covered by WiFi, according to the patent filed by its CSC Holdings subsidiary.

"In an embodiment, the subscriber is a customer of a service provider and accesses a communications network through a WiFi access point using a mobile handset. The subscriber may access the WiFi network through any WiFi network access point operated by the service provider or by a subscriber of the service provider," Cablevision writes in the patent, titled "efficient use of a communications network."

"If there is no available WiFi network access point for the mobile handset, the mobile handset may then attempt to initiate a handover to a visited network (such as a GSM network) operated by a third party with whom the service provider has a roaming agreement. However, because usage of the visited network is more expensive than usage of the service provider network, the mobile handset may continually search for an available WiFi network," Cablevision adds in the patent, which lists VP of digital voice product development Nicholas Damenti as the inventor.

A Cablevision spokesman declined to comment about the company's mobile plans.

The company has said that it is experimenting with ways to offer mobile phone service through a hybrid network of WiFi access points and cellular towers. "We've been working with devices that switch back and forth between cellular and WiFi, and there's clearly an opportunity to build products there," former Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge said on an earnings call in May 2010.

Cablevision executives have said little since then about its WiFi phone strategy, but the company continues to invest in building its WiFi network, using gear from Canadian supplier BelAir Networks.

Much of the Cablevision patent discusses ways that it could use WiFi to reduce the costs of offering service through other networks, and methods for handing off calls from WiFi to cellular networks.

Cablevision WiFi patent

Source: US PTO and Cablevision

"Today, the logic that governs the handover from a mobile network to WiFi is triggered by WiFi signal strength and/or network connection quality. In most cases, this logic alone is sufficient to manage handovers from a mobile network to WiFi. In some cases a subscriber may frequently drift in and out of WiFi coverage. Each time a subscriber drifts out of WiFi, a handover to a mobile network is triggered. Frequent handovers between WiFi and a mobile network can result in extra mobile network usage costs because, for example, a mobile network voice usage is rounded up to the nearest minute," Cablevision states in the patent.

"What is needed therefore are systems, methods, apparatuses, and computer program products to enable handover logic that is cost efficient. The logic should enable handover from a first network to a second network, such that the handover logic makes the most economical use of the first network before the handover is initiated," the company added.

While Cablevision has developed technology that it could use to offer a WiFi-based phone service, the company faces the challenge of obtaining handsets that it could offer to subscribers, and striking roaming deals with carriers. But it already does have one relationship in place with a mobile phone carrier. Last year, it reached an agreement with Sprint to offer discounts to its Optimum Business customers. Adding mobile phone service to its product portfolio could also help Cablevision compete with top rival Verizon (NYSE: VZ), which already offers a quadruple play of video, high-speed Internet and landline and mobile phone service to its FiOS customers. 

Commentary: How WiFi can hook triple-play subscribers

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