Comcast doesn’t want to put a label on CBRS work with Charter

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AllNet Insights & Analytics President Brian Goemmer told Fierce if the pair do decide to strike a partnership agreement on CBRS, it could afford them “the ability to offload traffic in a larger number of markets, outside of either company's cable franchise markets." (Comcast)

Comcast pushed back on the idea that it has joined forces with Charter to tackle CBRS deployments, after the CEOs of both companies made comments that sparked speculation to that effect.

A Comcast representative told Fierce both companies are testing 3.5 GHz spectrum but are simply learning side-by-side. The representative stated there is no formal partnership around CBRS in place. Charter declined to comment.

The response comes after Charter CEO Tom Rutledge and Comcast chief Brian Roberts each made comments at a Goldman Sachs investor conference earlier this week which appeared to hint at a joint effort on CBRS.

Rutledge, for instance, talked up work with Comcast “to create a synthetic, national opportunity by creating a CBRS business” that will allow them to better compete with national MNOs.

“We had a meeting of the minds on how that could work and how we could offload traffic and how both companies could benefit their customer bases by having this offload process and capability and how that could save consumers money – not just for Charter customers but for Comcast customers, for all customers of both companies,” he stated.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was more vague, simply mentioning it was “working with Charter” on CBRS testing. 

RELATED: Charter sees path to nearly 15M mobile subs

To be clear, Comcast and Charter do have a relationship related to their mobile efforts, but one which to date has primarily focused on collaboration on operational elements. The cable players initially teamed up in 2017 as they prepared to make their mobile debut, pledging to share best practices around marketing, pricing and back office infrastructure and combine their leverage in MVNO negotiations with wireless operators (both eventually struck deals with Verizon). They expanded their partnership in 2018, unveiling a scheme to jointly develop a common operating platform for sales, support, billing and warehousing.

Charter emerged from last year’s CBRS auction as the third largest spender, plunking down  $464.3 million for 210 licenses. Comcast was just behind it, spending $458.7 million on 830 licenses. Both Charter and Comcast have talked up plans to use the spectrum for mobile offload in the past, though both have indicated it may take some time before that dream becomes a reality. Rutledge said during an earnings call in July Charter's CBRS infrastructure won’t be active until “early next year” and won’t offer “any meaningful national offload” until the beginning of 2023.

While the companies don’t have a formal CBRS arrangement in place right now, striking one could prove beneficial. Brian Goemmer, president of AllNet Insights & Analytics, told Fierce one key perk would be “the ability to offload traffic in a larger number of markets, outside of either company's cable franchise markets. As an example, Comcast's CBRS spectrum in Seattle would be useful for offloading Charter's central Washington customers.”

“Another potential benefit would be creation of regional core networks eliminating each carrier from needing to build, staff, and operate a competing network,” he added.