Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cable provider Cox to package cell phone service

Cox Communications has becomes the first U.S. cable company to commercially sell its own wireless phone service, taking on AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile.
The third-largest cable company says research shows that its customers want a wireless service packaged with Cox's TV, broadband and wire-line offerings.

Cox initially will offer its service in three markets: Hampton Roads, Va.; Omaha; and Orange County, Calif. The company would not say how long it would take to make wireless available to more than 9 million homes in its territories, which include Phoenix, New Orleans, San Diego, Las Vegas and Providence, R.I.

Cox said earlier this year that about 24 percent of its customers said they are willing to switch to its mobile service.

Getting this far has been a struggle for Cox, which tried five years ago to develop a wireless service, called Pivot, in a partnership with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Advance/Newhouse Communications and Sprint Nextel. But the alliance fell apart in 2008 as the companies grappled with differing agendas and financial problems. Wireless is no longer a major focus for the rest.

The lesson from that failure: "We needed to own the experience from front to back," Cox President Patrick Esser says.

Cox expects to be "competitive to any other provider in the market, not only in rate plan pricing but also with the device portfolio that we have," said Stephen Bye, vice president for wireless.

Cox will offer 15 handsets, including smart phones from HTC, LG and Motorola that run Google's Android operating system.

Cox is looking to win over consumers by addressing some common complaints about the incumbent providers' service, such as overage charges and paying for unused minutes. Cox will offer alerts when a customer is approaching the maximum number of minutes, and give 5 cents back for every unused minute, up to savings of $20 a month. Cox will sell monthly mobile-service contracts starting at $39.99.

Bloomberg News contributed to this story.

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