By Barry Levine / Data Storage Today. Updated June 04, 2014.
Communications giant Comcast is making a new bid for the wireless business of small and medium-size companies. On Tuesday, the company announced its dual-channel Business Wireless Gateway so that businesses can offer public Wi-fi services for their customers or visitors and private channels for their employees.
The integrated modem is designed specifically for a commercial environment, and the company said the device and accompanying service are included with most Comcast Business Internet plans. In some plans, it is added at no cost, while in others monthly limits are applied to the public signal. The public signal is offered through Xfinity WiFi, a Comcast brand, and the dual-band router is from Cisco. Comcast also offers dual-band wireless gateways to homes.
John Guillaume, VP of product development, said in a statement that the company is making this Gateway "available nationwide because research has proven time and again that Wi-Fi is a game changer for brick-and-mortar-based small businesses."
The kinds of businesses Comcast is targeting with this product include coffee shops, law firms, real estate offices, gyms and libraries -- essentially any business that wants visitors or customers, he said.
In its announcement, Comcast pointed to a recent survey of small business owners by Bredin Research that found establishments not offering public Wi-Fi cited their concerns about tech support, cost and misuse by customers. The company pointed out that the device and service are set up by Comcast technicians, and maintained as part of its service.
Comcast did not specify the speeds it will be offering. The company simply said the private Wi-Fi was "fast" and "more than enough Wi-Fi speed to handle the demands and multiple devices of today's modern businesses." For public Wi-Fi, Comcast said that, "according to third party analysis, Xfinity WiFi is the fastest Wi-Fi in the nation."
'Important' to SMBs
Matt Davis, Director of Consumer and SMB Telecom Services at industry research firm IDC, pointed out to us that "Time Warner Cable just announced a similar approach," and AT&T has ReadyZone. He also noted more than half of the respondents to a 2013 IDC survey survey on emerging services for SMBs said having access to Wi-Fi hotspots was "important or extremely important," while only 14 percent described it as "not important at all."
AT&T Ready Zone is self-installed by businesses and although employees can use it, it is designed to be a public Wi-Fi solution. The Time Warner Cable (TWC) Hotspot is similarly a public Wi-Fi service for customers, and the company points out that it is "completely separate from your business high-speed Internet, so your data is separate and you can save your bandwidth for your business and employees." This separation includes a separate Internet connection.
As the Comcast/Time Warner Cable $45 billion merger continues on its course, the soon-to-be-one company will apparently need to also merge the separate small business offerings for SMB Wi-Fi. Both companies are attempting to dramatically increase the number of Wi-Fi hotspots they provide, but Comcast is far ahead with more than a million, compared to TWC's approximately 35,000.