TWC Beams Up Wi-Fi Hotspot Tracker

Time Warner Cable wants to keep broadband customers from cutting the cord -- by making it easier for them to connect to high-speed Wi-Fi outside the home.

The cable operator is using a technology from Israeli startup WeFi that automatically identifies the best possible Wi-Fi signal available in a given area and then connects a user’s mobile device. That will let TWC’s broadband subscribers seamlessly tap into more than 60,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the U.S., including those operated by its four MSO brethren.

In addition, the WeFi system promises to let TWC identify the highest-traffic areas to help determine where to place additional hotspots, according to Mike Roudi, the MSO’s senior vice president of corporate development.

“WeFi analyzes massive amounts of real-time data on Wi-Fi hotspot locations and conditions and gives TWC real time feedback on the quality of the Wi-Fi networks,” Roudi said. “This data is crucial for TWC WiFi to deliver the best possible mobile Internet service.” The MSO led a $10 million round of funding in WeFi earlier this year.

Initially, Time Warner Cable’s use of the WeFi system will enable access to its own hotspots and other MSO-operated networks.

Under the CableWiFi initiative announced this summer, TWC, Comcast, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks are providing their respective broadband subs access to any of the operators’ Wi-Fi networks. The goal: to deliver more value to high-speed Internet customers who may be tempted to simply switch to 4G wireless.

Time Warner Cable also could use the WeFi system to hook into other Wi-Fi networks, outside of the CableWiFi alliance. Currently, TWC does not have agreements with other providers, spokesman Justin Venech said.

Today, the vast majority of TWC-operated Wi-Fi hotspots are in the Los Angeles area. As of the end of September, the operator had deployed more than 8,000 access points, with 7,600 of those located in L.A.

Other places the MSO has rolled out Wi-Fi include New York City and Charlotte, N.C. Last week the operator announced the launch of 14 hotspot locations in the Kansas City market, where the operator is facing new competition from Google Fiber, which has begun connecting customers to its 1 Gigabit per second broadband service.

The WeFi technology is embedded in TWC’s WiFi Finder app for Android. The Apple iOS version with the hotspot location functionality is in development and will be available within a few weeks, according to WeFi CEO Zur Feldman.

WeFi’s hotspot-location system is used by 7 million users worldwide. Its database catalogs 145 million hotspots globally, with about 50 million of those in the U.S. The startup has another American “Tier 1” operator customer, according to Feldman, but he declined to identify it.

WeFi originally developed its Enhanced Access Network Discovery and Selection Function solution for mobile operators, which want to offload usage from cellular data networks to Wi-Fi. For cable companies like TWC, which don’t operate 3G or 4G wireless networks, the WeFi solution is geared toward “onloading” users, Feldman noted.

WeFi, which has about 40 employees, has raised $27 million in funding to date from TWC and other investors including Pitango Venture Capital, LightSpeed Venture Partners and Gemini Israel Funds. WeFi has U.S. offices in Boston, Denver and Menlo Park, Calif., with R&D in Tel Aviv, Israel.