Comcast adds 246K wireless subs in Q4

Comcast’s residential video business lost more subscribers in the fourth quarter, but the company gained subscribers in the broadband internet and wireless departments.

Comcast added 246,000 postpaid wireless subscribers in the fourth quarter, ending the quarter with 2.8 million total lines. Comcast’s wireless revenue in the quarter grew 35.8% to $505 million.

T-Mobile preliminarily reported fourth-quarter net adds of 824,000. AT&T announced on Wednesday that it had 800,000 postpaid net adds for the quarter, while Verizon reported just 279,000 postpaid net additions in the fourth quarter.

Looking over the full year, “2020 was one of the most uncertain and challenging periods that any of us can remember, but we rose to the occasion,” CEO Brian Roberts said during the company’s earnings conference call Thursday. “This year’s cable results were nothing short of exceptional,” hitting a number of company records.

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In wireless, Comcast is working to fully integrate mobile into the core cable operations. Its Xfinity Mobile brand is offered to existing customers and serves as a customer retention strategy.

“We’re really excited for 2021 as we’ve recently expanded parts of our MVNO agreement with Verizon that will enable us to improve our range of offerings and acquire more customers more profitably,” Roberts said.

He reiterated that an MVNO-led, capital-light wireless model is the right one for Comcast and offers more strategic opportunity in the years ahead. But Comcast executives didn’t give a whole lot of new insight into what they’re doing in wireless.

Comcast acquired Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) licenses in the 3.5 GHz auction that ended last summer, and it’s partnering with Charter Communications in the C-band auction, which just entered the assignment phase. C-band auction participants can’t talk about the auction during the quiet period, but Comcast executives were asked about using CBRS as an offload vehicle.

Comcast Cable President and CEO Dave Watson said they’re working on development plans around the targeted use of CBRS spectrum in dense, high-usage areas and how they can offload traffic there, but “nothing more really to come at this point. This is a multi-year effort,” and the area of a lot of focus right now.

The over-arching plan involves having access to Verizon’s network and Comcast continues to leverage Wi-Fi in the home and outside in public areas. Over time, they see the ability to add a third layer, in the form of Comcast’s own targeted wireless infrastructure, to supplement the Verizon network and go after high-dense usage areas with their own spectrum.

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Both Verizon and T-Mobile have beefed up their efforts to woo cable customers by offering internet services using fixed wireless access (FWA) technology, and that’s expected to ramp up for both carriers this year. But analysts at MoffettNathanson don’t think cable has a lot to worry about when it comes to that competition.

“While we do expect more noise from FWBB deployments from Verizon and T-Mobile this year, including at their respective analyst days, we’re not particularly worried about the threat to cable,” wrote analyst Craig Moffett in a report Thursday. “We remain persuaded by the simple math of network loads; a single percentage point of fixed broadband market share would be the equivalent of a 33% increase in traffic on the network for either T-Mobile or Verizon… for less than 1% incremental revenue. In short, it’s not worth it for anything more than a toe in the water.”