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T-Mobile, Bright House Connect on WiFi Trial

T-Mobile and Bright House Networks are teaming on a Passpoint-powered WiFi roaming trial that will tie in about 34,000 hotspots that the cable operator has deployed in Tampa and Orlando, according to T-Mobile Web pages that detail the effort.

Those documents, spotted by Fierce Wireless, note that about 50,000 customers will receive a text message asking them to opt into the trial. The test will use Passpoint on handsets to auto-connect to Bright House’s WiFi network, and only on Passpoint-enabled devices that support either WiFi Calling 1.0 or 2.0. Voice-over-LTE support isn’t required but is “strongly recommended for the best experience.” VoLTE is encouraged because it “will improve your experience by enabling call handovers between Wi-Fi and VoLTE network when on the move,” explains the trial FAQ.

Update: This is an upcoming technology trial and not a commercial relationship between T-Mobile and Bright House Networks. "Yes, we are looking to conduct a technology trial in the Tampa-Orlando, Florida market focused on Passpoint technology and access," a T-Mobile spokesperson said, in a statement. "We continue to look at ways to drive a better, more differentiated wireless experience for T-Mobile customers." 

Passpoint, also known as HotSpot 2.0, is a technology that brings cellular-like handoff and roaming capabilities to WiFi, and is sometimes viewed as enabler for MSO voice-over-WiFi services. T-Mobile is using Passpoint on some WiFi-capable handsets so its customers can connect calls, receive messages and obtain data via the carrier’s “Preferred” WiFi access points. Data used over WiFi does not count toward a T-Mobile user’s monthly data consumption bucket, the carrier said. 

When WiFi is turned on, T-Mobile explains, the Passpoint feature in the handset and Bright House’s WiFi hotpot will automatically connect customers when they are in range. “No password is required.” Passpoint-enabled devices eligible for the trial include several iPhone models, the HTC Desire, LG G5, Samsung Galaxy S5, and Sony Xperia Z3, among several others.

Time Warner Cable is using Passpoint to help underpin its roaming pact with Boingo.

Word of the T-Mobile-Bright House trial comes as cable operators expand the reach of their WiFi networks and as some consider WiFi-first mobile services that prefer WiFi connectivity and use cellular as a backup. The Cable WiFi Alliance (BHN, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox Communications, and TWC are currently members) have deployed more than 400,000 quasi-public WiFi hotspots that are accessible to their respective high-speed Internet subscribers.  Of that group, Cablevision has launched a WiFi-only service called Freewheel.

Charter Communications, which is in the process of acquiring TWC and Bright House, has begun to deploy WiFi, under the “Spectrum WiFi” banner, and is expected to join the Cable WiFi group later this year.

Speaking Wednesday (August 5) on Charter’s second quarter earnings call, company president and CEO Tom Rutledge was asked about T-Mobile’s openness to potential cable partnerships and his interest in working with a wireless carrier.

“I think wireless is a component of our service already,” Rutledge said, referring to Charter’s WiFi rollout. “So I think there are opportunities, business opportunities, to create mobility for us whether that's with T-Mo or any other provider for that matter. I think opportunities exist there and people are trying to figure out the right business models to do that.”