US cable TV and internet provider Cablevision plans to launch a mobile phone network in February. It’s called Freewheel, and existing Cablevision subscribers will be able to sign up for unlimited talk, text, and data plans for just $10 per month. Folks who aren’t already Cablevision customers will be able to use Freewheel for $30 per month.
So why is Freewheel so much cheaper than just about any other US wireless network? Because it doesn’t rely on cell towers and 3G or 4G. All calls, text messages, and data will be sent over WiFi.
That doesn’t mean you’ll have to be at home or at a coffee shop to use Freewhell though: Cablevision has a network of more than 1 million WiFi hotspots in the New York area, which is the only market where Freewheel will be available at launch (although customers will be able to use their devices at 300,000 other hotspots around the country.
When you’re in Manhattan, odds are you’ll be able to get a good signal. When you’re not… the phone will most likely work only when you’re at home, at the office, or at a coffee shop or other location with a WiFi signal.
Initially Freewheel will offer a single phone: a $100 Motorola Moto G with software that will allow it to automatically connect to Cablevision’s network of WiFi hotspots.
Cablevision isn’t the only company to offer WiFi-based phone service. Republic Wireless already offers smartphone service that relies heavily on WiFi networks… but Republic Wireless phones can use Sprint’s mobile network when you’re not near a WiFi hotspot. Google is said to be interested in launching a similar service this year.
Freewheel’s phones, on the other hand, will only be able to make calls or access the internet over WiFi.
That makes it more like FreedomPop’s new $5 per month service plan, announced earlier this month. The FreedomPop plan is cheaper than Cablevision’s Freewheel service and it’ll be available in more parts of the country. But FreedomPop is relying on third-party WiFi providers while Cablevision has its own network which could (theoretically, at least) allow Cablevision to offer more reliable service.