City-Wide (sort of) Wi-Fi Service

I spent much of last year in the boroughs of NYC, and a bit up the Hudson and Bronx river valleys, as well as some time along the rails in CT up to New Haven. What I started to notice was a great number of Wi-Fi access points called “CableWiFi” or similar. I also discovered that, in the right areas with enough signal strength, I could associate to these and get a login screen which asked me if I was a cable service subscriber for any of a number of cable ISPs. One of these was Cox, and as we’re a Cox subscriber here in Arizona, I eventually figured out which username/password to enter into the authentication page and BOOM I was on the Internet. Speeds were often (if not always) better than what I could get on the hotel Wi-Fi.

A number of large cable ISPs have gotten together and are rolling out in volume Wi-Fi access points in major metro areas. In the NYC greater-metro-tri-state area, there are apparently well over 250k APs now available. You can recognize them certainly by seeing SSIDs that are “CableWiFi” or similar, but also the physical devices hanging along the distribution cable on phone poles. As far as I can tell, it’s only in areas where there is above-ground ISP coaxial cable hanging on phone poles.

I grabbed a few shots of one hanging on the line near the house. Sorry about the poor resolution, all I have is my iPhone to snap pictures with. The boxes are Cisco APs, hardened outdoor devices in cast metal cases, with three antenna bumps on the base of the case. Here’s a few pictures.

General View, Cable Provider Wi-Fi AP (circled) hanging from Cable Messenger
Close-up View of the 3 Antennas on the Base of the Enclosure (note the F connector on the side coax)
Another View
Another View
Detail of Cable AP Wiring

This last photo gives some insight into how the Cisco AP is connected into the cable. Here, at least two coupler/splitters (left boxes) are visible, with the AP to the right. There are also 3 distribution coaxes visible, one coming from beneath the ground (the one exiting conduit on pole). There has to be power supplied as well for the AP to work, I don’t know the details but there’s likely a constant source of DC or AC impressed on the coax. The smaller grey coupler (most left) has a connection directly to the Cisco AP, and supplies both the backhaul connection and power via the thin coaxial jumper cable. If I had a camera with a real optical zoom lens, I could read the labels and perhaps decipher a bit more about the setup.

The service is pretty good. I have a Win 7 PC in the truck which has one of the Amped Wireless UA230A dual-band Wi-Fi transceivers installed, and the YAWCam application pulling images every 15 seconds from the Mobius ActionCam attached to the windshield. When the PC detects the Cox/CableWiFi connection, it associates and then can push an image or more to my main website page.

I’m slowly collecting position information data for CoxWiFi / CableWiFi APs in the greater PHX area, and will publish some maps soon. Until then, it’s possible to get that kind of information from Cox’s website.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.