Does Comcast Want To Be Your Mobile Phone Carrier? (Probably, Yeah)

Image courtesy of YayAdrian

They already dominate in home broadband and in cable TV. But Comcast knows as well as anyone else that your attention is increasingly leaving the living room and going on the road — or at least, split between two screens at once. And if you’re going wireless, well, Comcast wants to meet you there so it can keep taking your money.

Comcast has already expressed plans for handling the new and improved 5G future, whenever it comes, but these plans are much more immediate than that.

Two pieces of news have emerged that make it clear Comcast has an eye on wireless — not just theoretically, but now. The first has to do with spectrum: as Ars Technica reports, Comcast is joining the list of bidders for a new set of airwaves that the FCC is preparing to auction off. Other bidders on the approved list include Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile — though not Sprint, which probably doesn’t have the spare cash lying around.

The spectrum Comcast is bidding on isn’t the super high-frequency, high-speed stuff 5G will theoretically be made of. It’s lower and slower than that, so to speak: this auction is for the 600 MHz slice of the spectrum that’s been reclaimed from broadcast TV. (Broadcasters have been willing to part with their spectrum rights since we don’t need or use as much of that anymore, basically, and selling it can be lucrative).

This stretch of spectrum is good for traveling long distances and penetrating into buildings — so not dense, urban nodes, but rather a service that can reach almost anywhere. While that spectrum could be part of a future 5G network, depending on how the technology plays out, it’s definitely suitable for existing tech and phones — and that may be where Comcast’s interest lies.

Because they’re also launching a mobile branch of the company. And there’s no doubt that’s what it is; as Multichannel News reports, it’s literally called the Comcast Mobile division.

The division will be headed by Comcast executive Greg Butz, who is credited with helping to create and successfully market Comcast’s broadband business back when this whole concept of “super fast cable internet” was a new idea, Multichannel News explains. And he’s also worked in the wireless biz before.

There’s also already something there for Butz to work with aside from any new spectrum Comcast might buy: back in 2012, Comcast worked out a deal with Verizon Wireless. That deal would allow them to become an MVNO, a Mobile Virtual Network Operator.

Any company that sells you mobile service but has their signals carried on someone else’s infrastructure in an MVNO, and most small wireless carriers in the country fall under that heading. Comcast reserved the right to sell wireless plans under their own name, but with signals to and from the phones actually riding on Verizon’s airwaves. And now, they’ve activated that agreement.

Analysts suspect that Comcast’s plan is to launch a hybrid network, relying first on the ubiquitous WiFi hotspots Comcast has tried to set up everywhere using both public nodes and also home users’ routers, and then connecting to Verizon’s mobile network when the WiFi signal is insufficient.

If Comcast does launch its own mobile service, its reach — and questions about zero-rating, competition, and fairness — would get even greater.

Comcast Leans Into Wireless [Multichannel News]
Comcast joins top mobile carriers in 600MHz spectrum auction [Ars Technica]

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