The ongoing rumor that Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable company, will be launching its own cellular service has reportedly been confirmed. CEO Brian Roberts revealed at an investor conference on Tuesday morning that the cable company’s cellular network will debut mid-2017.
"Clearly our goal is to take market share,” said Roberts, reports CNET, at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference in New York. “The [Comcast Wireless] team is getting ready to launch by the middle of next year.”
While Roberts did not divulge anything regarding price points or plans, he did shed light on their targeted demographic: Comcast’s existing cable consumer base.
As for the network, it will be a "hybrid cellular and Wi-Fi service" that will not need new cell towers. Part of the service will be provided by the company’s Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots. Comcast has 15 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the country, with some 8 million public Wi-Fi hotspots and millions more from the company’s Internet subscribers—over the past few years, the company gradually replaced traditional routers in many customers’ households with dual-mode routers and turned homes into hotspots.
Roberts spoke to CNBC’s Squawk on the Street about Comcast’s hotspots and spotlighted how it impacts consumer experience. "What I would report to you is I think we have more hot spots than any company with Xfinity Wi-Fi, and we've found it to be a fantastic way to get your content. It works better on Wi-Fi," he told CNBC at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association's annual conference earlier this year. "People find Wi-Fi hotspots and they love it. If we can give you more of them, that's a winning strategy.”
Should a device not be within reach of a Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspot, Comcast’s service will use Verizon's wireless network. Comcast is able to use Verizon’s network after invoking an agreement in its 2011 spectrum deal with the company. As per the $3.6 billion pact, Comcast can resell mobile service while on Verizon’s network.
When Comcast solicited the then-three-year-old agreement, Verizon exec Fran Shammo commented on the matter in the Q3 2015 earnings call. “Cable is going to do what they are going to do and we're going to do what we're going to do,” said Shammo. “I think that again though what I would say is we truly believe that Wi-Fi is a complementary wireless network if you will with LTE and we don't believe one replaces the other.”
This is not Comcast’s first step in the cellular market, as the company spearheaded a project called Pivot in 2006 with Sprint and cable companies like Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications. Pivot folded in 2008.
"We decided to discontinue the service because the product required a lot of operational complexities, so we decided it wasn't the approach we wanted for the long term," said a Comcast spokesperson at the time.
This time around, Comcast is confident in its outcome. “We believe there will be a big payback with reduced churn, more stickiness and better satisfaction,” said Roberts.