Comcast Corp. is testing a free wireless Internet service for its cable subscribers in parts of New Jersey, following in the footsteps of a fellow cable operator.
Comcast shadowed Cablevision Systems Corp., which is offering Wi-Fi in its Long Island, Connecticut and Westchester markets and will complete the wireless rollout by early 2010.
The collaboration is meant to extend the reach of each cable operator's Wi-Fi; a Comcast customer can access his cable operator's Wi-Fi in certain Cablevision markets and vice versa.
Comcast spokeswoman Mary Nell Westbrook said Wi-Fi speeds will be 1.5 Megabits per second, comparable to DSL at home. Users will be asked for the username and password they use for Comcast's Internet service before they can access Wi-Fi.
If all goes well, Comcast could decide to roll out the free service nationwide, to be accessed by laptops and other Wi-Fi devices. But Westbrook cautioned that the trial is still in its very early stages.
Philadelphia-based Comcast said the Wi-Fi trial is separate from its mobile wireless joint venture with Clearwire Corp. and other companies using WiMax technology. Cablevision decided to go the Wi-Fi route, since it wasn't involved in the Clearwire deal.
So it won't lose customers to phone companies, cable operators have been looking to add wireless to their video, Internet and phone services.
Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, has set up equipment at about 100 New Jersey Transit commuter rail stations and parking lots.
They are in the Main-Bergen County area, Glen Rock, the Montclair-Boonton area, Morris, Essex, the North Jersey Coast, Pascack Valley, Raritan Valley and along the Northeast Corridor.