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Cox to shut down wireless service

Wed, 11/16/2011 - 4:53pm
Mike Robuck

Closing wirelessLate last night, Cox Communications announced that effective today, it will no longer sell its 3G wireless service, although it will continue to provide the service to its customers until March 30.

Cox said its decision to exit the wireless phone service market is based on the lack of wireless scale necessary to compete in the marketplace, the acceleration of competitive 4G networks and the inability to access iconic wireless devices. Cox is using Sprint Nextel's network for its "Unbelievably Fair" branded service, so it may have had access to iPhones going forward.

It's been a rocky road for Cox's wireless offering. The cable company that is well known for its thoughtful engineering and dedication to customer service abandoned the build-out of its own 3G network earlier this year.

Cox first announced it would pursue its own wireless plans in 2008. It acquired wireless spectrum, which included both 700 MHz and Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum, from FCC auctions in 2006 and 2008. Cox spent more than $550 million for radio spectrum licenses to support its wireless plans, but the company's plans for its wireless network were constantly behind schedule over the past few years.

In 2009, Cox signed a deal with Huawei to help build its 3G CDMA network. At the time, Cox said it planned on launching the service later that year. Cox has also previously announced that it was testing 4G LTE technology.

The slow build of the wireless network was rumored to be a factor in the departure of former Cox CTO Ken Hatfield more than a year ago. In April, Cox hired former Clearwire executive Kevin Hart as its new CTO.

In March, Stephen Bye, Cox's vice president of wireless and the point man for Cox's wireless launches on Sprint's network, left the company to go work for Sprint. Cox subsequently promoted Kelly Williams to vice president of wireless product and operations in April.

As for current Cox Wireless customers, they'll receive a $150 credit on their bill for every line of wireless phone service disconnected. Customers can keep their wireless devices, and all early termination fees will be waived. Also, wireless customers will continue to receive their bundled pricing for two years. Cox hasn't disclosed the number of subscribers it has for Cox Wireless.

"Cox is working to make this transition as seamless and easy as possible for our customers," said Len Barlik, executive vice president of product development and management at Cox. "We are proud of our employees' dedication to delivering the excellent customer service that Cox is known for, and we will continue to keep our wireless customers' satisfaction a top priority during this transition period.

"We understand the importance of wireless to the customer experience. Cox is looking at several options to continuously increase the value of our bundle of services."

While privately held Cox has a plan in place for its wireless subscribers, it didn't say what would happen to the wireless division employees.

"No decisions have been made at this time related to employees," Cox spokesman Todd Smith wrote in an email to CED. "We have not said how many wireless employees we have. We have not disclosed our total investment numbers regarding wireless."

Cox was on track to meet its stated goal of having the wireless service launched in 50 percent of its footprint by year's end before it abruptly pulled the plug. The latest launch in September was across Cox's entire California footprint, which included the San Diego and Santa Barbara areas.

With the addition of California, Cox's "Unbelievably Fair" mobile phone service is now available in Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla.; Rhode Island; Hampton Roads, Roanoke and northern Virginia; and in Cox communities in Connecticut and Cleveland, Ohio.

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