The five largest cable operators in the United States (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision Systems, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks) recently unveiled a plan to give each other’s high-speed data customers reciprocal access to metro Wi-Fi networks, totaling more than 50,000 hotspots.

In a separate announcement, Comcast said it would let Xfinity Voice customers place free calls over WiFi and other wireless data networks, using mobile devices or PCs.  Additionally, as part of the Voice2go service, customers will be able to forward calls to as many as  four additional phones or devices.

These announcements could have a profound effect on the revenues of mobile wireless providers.  Verizon and other mobile providers are already losing revenue from one source as people have begun moving away from text message plans and towards messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook, which provide free texts, but use data. Now the mobile providers may have to deal with the threat of pervasive Wi-Fi.  If other cable operators follow Comcast, mobile customers in those covered areas may not eliminate voice plans altogether, but moving down to the lowest cost-voice plans (fewest minutes) could be a reality.

There is one benefit for mobile providers, however.  If individuals become more adept at switching back and forth between free Wi-Fi and cellular networks, it may relieve network congestion and alleviate the need for further cellular infrastructure buildout.

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