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US cablecos spice wireless broadband fight

The quadruple play

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Cox Communications - the third largest cable TV outfit in the US - says it will unleash its own 3G wireless network sometime in 2009.

The cableco already offers wired broadband and telephony as well as mind-numbing television, calling itself the "first company to introduce a voice, video and data bundle to the marketplace," and in the coming months, it will stick a fourth prong on this so-called "triple play."

Cox will build its CDMA network on the spectrum it purchased during the recent 700-MHz auction/soap opera and some additional airwaves it controls in the AWS (Advanced Wireless Services) band. And while awaiting completion of the network, it will offer wireless services through a partnership with Sprint.

"[The Sprint partnership] will allow us to get to market quicker while we're building out our own network," spokeswoman Jill Ullman told The Reg. The company also says it will begin testing 4G technology in 2009, but in this case, it's going against the Sprint grain. Sprint is the lone US carrier banking on WiMAX, and Cox plans on testing the LTE (long term evolution) standard favored by just about everyone else.

Cox has more than 6.2 million residential and business customers in 18 major US markers, including Phoenix and Tuscon, Arizona; San Diego, California; Orange County, California; New Orleans; Oklahoma City; and the state of Rhode Island. According to the company, 64 per cent of those customers spring for multiple services and one third subscribe to all three of its current offerings.

Naturally, the company believes that adding a fourth play will help it attract more customers. "Wireless service will be a key driver to Cox’s future growth,” reads a canned statement from president Pat Esser.

“As wireless communications enters the new generation, we are uniquely positioned to deliver the entertainment and communications services our customers want, whenever, however and wherever they want them. Our bundled customers will become even ‘stickier’ as we offer them the best customer experience."

The company's wireless network will only span its existing markets, but customers will be free to roam elsewhere via Sprint. And whether it's nationwide or not, additional wireless broadband competition is a good thing. The nation's biggest cable outfit, Comcast, is also planning a wireless network, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen - who owns the number four player, Charter Communications - grabbed some 700-MHz airwaves of his own under the aegis of a company called Vulcan Spectrum.

No word on a wireless network from the number two player, Time Warner Cable, but the company has invested - along with Comcast - in the proposed WiMAX merger of Sprint and Clearwire. ®

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