Comcast’s Wireless Intentions

Another Potential “Wi-Fi First” Initiative in the Works

Comcast, America’s largest cable company, serves more than 27 million households with combinations of its Xfinity-branded cable TV, Internet and fixed-line voice services. In addition, Comcast offers a home security service to make up what the company calls a “quad play” bundle.

Despite its status as a leading telecom provider, Comcast currently lacks a mobile wireless service, a clear gap its portfolio. We expected Comcast to acquire a mobile operator to round out its offerings and compete with AT&T and Verizon.

However, Comcast’s CEO, Brian Roberts, recently stated the company would start using Verizon’s cellular network for mobile services. In 2012 a multiparty deal saw Verizon purchase spectrum from a cable company consortium consisting of Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Communications. As part of the arrangement, Verizon was required to provide wholesale access to its network to the cable companies, enabling them to become mobile virtual network operators.

Despite access to Verizon’s network, we expect a wireless service from Comcast to be another example of “Wi-Fi first” architecture, relying primarily on its own network of millions of Wi-Fi hot spots and falling back onto Verizon’s LTE network when necessary.

If Comcast does weave together a wireless network using Wi-Fi and leased cellular as expected, it would be another example of a network model that is becoming more popular among companies with ambitions of rolling out mobile services using alternative infrastructures. Comcast’s would join services such as Google’s Project Fi and start-up FreedomPop.

Comcast already provides its Xfinity services to almost a quarter of American households. This gives it a large initial audience for extended bundles including mobility. A specific launch date hasn’t been announced, but trials are expected to begin during the coming months with a commercial launch in late 2016.

Given the nearly complete mobile penetration rate in the US, Comcast will need to drive churn among its competitors, attracting new mobile customers using price and features. It’s too early to determine if Comcast can establish itself as a viable alternative in America’s wireless market. “Wi-Fi first” has become a primary theme for new mobile service providers.

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