Some of the biggest cable and technology companies in the US are apparently putting together an unlikely partnership. According to The Wall Street Journal, Google and Microsoft are joining up with Charter, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable to launch a coalition to expand public Wi-Fi access. WifiForward, as the coalition is said to be named, would seek to lobby the government to free up more spectrum that could be used for Wi-Fi to free up networks that will undoubtably get more congested in the coming years. Despite the ubiquity of LTE-capable smartphones, Cisco says that 57 percent of mobile data traffic in the US is carried over Wi-Fi — and as data usage increases in coming years, Wi-Fi spectrums will get more and more crowded.
The makeup of companies rumored to be involved in this coalition is notable — the cable companies, particularly Comcast, have had wireless aspirations in the past, and more Wi-Fi access certainly makes Microsoft and Google's cloud-based software much more useful. It's also worth noting that there aren't any wireless carriers like Verizon or AT&T involved in WifiForward. Now that Verizon and AT&T's LTE networks are more mature and generally less congested than their 3G networks were a few years ago, Wi-Fi access appears to be less of a priority. AT&T in particular had built a network of 32,000 Wi-Fi hotspots to help ease the pressure the iPhone and other smartphones brought to its wireless network, but now that unlimited data is a thing of the past, the carriers have a big incentive to push customers to use (and pay) for as much wireless data as they can.
This news comes just as Comcast announced plans to acquire Time Warner Cable, one of the rumored partners in this new coalition. Whether or not that deal will affect WifiForward remains to be seen, but we should know more about the partnership before long — the WSJ says that details should be announced today.
Update: The WiFiForward alliance is official — the full list of partnering companies, which also includes Best Buy and Motorola, can be found here. The coalition's official mission statement call it "an ad hoc, broad-based group of companies, organizations and public sector institutions working to alleviate the Wi-Fi spectrum crunch and to support making Wi-Fi even better by finding more unlicensed spectrum."