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Cable firm Cox to build wireless network by 2009: Will team with Sprint Nextel to expand reach

Cable company Cox Communications announced it will build a wireless network with the $500 million in spectrum the company has accumulated over the past several years, and will launch commercial services by next year. The company will work with Sprint Nextel Corp. to supplement its wireless ambitions, and – in a nod to the current trend in wireless – Cox said it will “test 4G technology utilizing LTE (Long Term Evolution)” in an apparent bid to remain competitive in the coming years.
Jill Ullman, spokeswoman for Cox, said the company will use CDMA in the initial build markets and begin LTE trials in 2009.
“While we remain bullish about 4G LTE technology, in the Cox tradition we will not deploy 4G until we feel that it will enhance the Cox experience and be of benefit to our customers,” she said. “Devices are another key factor to watch and we must ensure that they will be priced reasonably.”
According to the Associated Press, Cox plans to build its own network in its cable service area – Cox’s spectrum licenses cover areas around Atlanta, New Orleans, San Diego, Omaha, Neb., and Las Vegas as well as much of Kansas and southern New Mexico – and will partner with Sprint Nextel and possibly others for roaming outside those areas.
“As a regional player, we must have roaming agreements,” Ullman said. “Roaming is part of our holistic relationship with Sprint and we are looking for opportunities to partner with others as well.”
Cox owns 12 MHz of spectrum licenses covering 76% of Cox’s wireline footprint. However, Ullman would not name any particular new markets where Cox’s wireless services would be featured. Cox’s licenses cover about 23 million people, according to the Associate Press.
The plan
Though Ullman declined to go into detail about pricing and packaging models, Cox’s Pat Esser made clear the company’s wireless strategy:
“Wireless service will be a key driver to Cox’s future growth,” said Esser, president of Cox, in the company’s press release. “As wireless communications enters the new generation, we are uniquely positioned to deliver the entertainment and communications services our customers want, whenever, however and wherever they want them. Our bundled customers will become even ‘stickier’ as we offer them the best customer experience. To deliver the best customer experience, we will manage every aspect of the service, from product development to marketing and sales to back-office operations and customer support and billing.”
In an interview with USA Today, Stephen Bye, Cox’s VP of wireless, provided further details. He said subscribers will be able to use their Cox cellphones to program home digital video recorders. They’ll also be able to access e-mail and voice mail that they receive at home.
He also said Cox phones will include a network address book that automatically synchronizes with home PCs, and that subscribers will be able to watch TV shows, and possibly full-time channels, on their handsets.
Though neither Esser nor Bye mentioned the company’s competition, Cox’s move is an overt response to telecom giants like AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., which are rushing to combine wireless and wireline services in an attempt to cash in on the nation’s diverse communications needs.
Indeed, Cox alluded to the situation by pointing out its long-standing bundling endeavors. In 1997, the company introduced a voice, video and data bundle. Further, the company said that, today, more than 64% of its customers buy multiple services, and one-third subscribe to all three products.
A long history
Cox’s announcement is just the latest effort by a cable company to cash in on the world’s taste for wireless. Cox was a member of a joint venture that teamed with Sprint Nextel in order to resell Pivot-branded wireless services to cable users. After 33 market launches and little traction, the JV folded in August.
Further, Cox, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, through a separate but related joint venture, paid $2.4 billion for 137 licenses covering almost 270 million potential customers in 2006’s advanced wireless services (AWS) spectrum auction. And earlier this year Cox paid $305 million for 22 licenses in the Federal Communications Commission’s 700 MHz spectrum auction.
Cox counts more than 6.2 million residential and commercial customers. The third-largest cable television company in the United States, Cox offers digital video, high-speed Internet and telephony services over its own nationwide IP network.
This article was updated on Oct. 27 to include comments from Cox’s Jill Ullman. RCR Wireless News Reporter Allie Winter contributed to this article.

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