Marek’s Take: Wireless operators set their sights on WFH employees

Wireless operators are smart to target the WFH crowd as many employers have signaled that they are prepared to spend money on connectivity and collaboration tools.(Pixabay)
Marek's take

The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a monumental shift to work-from-home (WFH) and it looks like that WFH model is here to stay, even once the pandemic ends. With that in mind, wireless operators like AT&T and T-Mobile have quickly devised new products intended to appeal to companies with WFH employees. But they aren’t alone. Comcast also announced new plans for its Xfinity Mobile wireless service aimed at the business market.

According to a recent PWC survey of employers conducted late last year, most companies believe that they will embrace some form of hybrid workplace, where employees work from home a certain number of days per week. Employers say that this model embraces the type of flexibility that employees crave but also allows for collaboration and employee engagement.

Wireless operators are now trying to tap into this trend by offering new services and rate plans targeted at companies that want to help their workforce perform effectively at home. And this is probably a wise move as many employers have said they are prepared to spend money on connectivity and collaboration tools. The PWC survey found that 70% of companies said that they will invest in IT infrastructure that supports virtual connectivity and 72% said they plan to invest in virtual collaboration tools.

T-Mobile, specifically, is targeting the WFH crowd. The operator, which in the past has not had much of a foothold in the enterprise market, has designed three plans that cater to the WFH crowd. One plan, called T-Mobile Enterprise Unlimited, is similar to its consumer T-Mobile MAX plan and offers unlimited data. A second plan, called T-Mobile Home Office Internet, is the enterprise version of T-Mobile’s fixed wireless home service. This product is intended for remote workers who are sharing their home Internet connection with other family members. The company, which has been fairly quiet about the status of its fixed wireless home service, revealed last week that as of the end of 2020 it had 100,000 home broadband customers and is targeted 7 million to 8 million subscribers within five years.

And the third plan, T-Mobile Collaborate, appears to address exactly what the PWC survey mentioned, which is that enterprises want to invest in collaboration tools and connectivity tools for their home workers. T-Mobile Collaborate bundles in Dialpad and includes a curated group of voice, chat and videoconferencing services. T-Mobile is such a fan of Dialpad that the company’s venture arm, T-Mobile Ventures, made an equity investment in Dialpad and is now a member of Dialpad’s board of directors.

T-Mobile isn’t alone in setting its sights on the WFH market. AT&T, which along with Verizon already has a strong presence in the enterprise market, also launched a new fixed wireless broadband service that is intended for WFH customers. And like T-Mobile, AT&T said one advantage of its fixed wireless service is that it can offer a secure connection that is different from the employee’s home broadband service. The added capabilities like security come with the company’s new fixed wireless routers from Sierra Wireless and Ericsson’s Cradlepoint and will be available beginning in April.

It will be interesting to see how aggressive AT&T is with its fixed wireless broadband service to the enterprise market. The company said that it already connects around 2.5 million enterprise customers with its fiber service. And AT&T has a growing fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) footprint with about 4.9 million fiber residential customers.  

Testing the water
Perhaps the most interesting entrant in the WFH broadband market is Comcast and its Xfinity Mobile wireless service that rides on Verizon’s network. The company, which already has more than 30 million broadband customers in the U.S., launched a Comcast Business mobile service with two types of plans. By the Gig offers shared data at rates of 1GB for $15 per month, 3GB for $30 per month and 10 GB for $60 per month. And Unlimited Data offers unlimited data for $45 per month per line. However, speeds drop after the customer uses 20 GB of data per month.

But what’s different about Comcast’s Business Mobile service is that it doesn’t require the customer to also be a Comcast broadband customer. If they are, there is a price advantage but it’s not a requirement like it is with Xfinity Mobile’s consumer plans.

Comcast may just be testing the water to see what type of interest it can get from the WFH crowd. So far, the cable industry hasn’t registered any concern about the wireless players and their home broadband offerings, even the fixed wireless services that are starting to make headway.

In a recent investor call, Charter Communications CFO Chris Winfrey said that he didn’t think the wireless networks would have the ability to handle the amount of data that cable broadband subscribers are accustomed to. For example, Winfrey said Charter’s customers typically average around 700 Gigs of data per month while wireless customers typically average around 10 Gigs of data per month. “The difference in the utilization of wireless networks vs. our network is significant. Current wireless networks aren’t designed to handle that.”