Tom Rutledge, CEO of Charter Communications, recently signed a contract to stay at Charter for another four years.
Speaking at the Morgan Stanley investor conference this week, Rutledge said he views Charter’s mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) business as an extension of the company’s broadband business.
He said that “from a capacity point of view” the MVNO business is “a relatively small piece” of Charter’s overall business. Charter now counts more than 2.5 million MVNO subscribers. He also includes Wi-Fi in what he considers Charter’s overall wireless business. “We have 400 million wireless devices connected to our network right now through Wi-Fi.”
“We think there’s an opportunity from a product point of view to continue to grow our mobile relationships; to integrate that mobile relationship into our overall broadband relationships,” said Rutledge.
Charter added 315,000 mobile lines in its fourth quarter 2020, whereas Comcast added 246,000 in the same period. The MVNOs of both Charter and Comcast ride on Verizon’s network.
Charter paid over $406 million for 210 priority access licenses (PALs) in the CBRS spectrum auction in 2020. It's widely assumed that they will use this CBRS spectrum to offload some of their MVNO traffic and save money on wholesale fees that they pay to Verizon.
At the time of the CBRS auction, Mobile Ecosystem analyst Mark Lowenstein said, “Cable is probably the biggest take-away from the CBRS auction. This shows their commitment to being in mobile longer term. They also want to wean themselves off the MVNO relationship with Verizon, where they pay unfavorable rates for data.”
Yesterday, Rutledge said Charter plans to leverage its Wi-Fi offerings and CBRS spectrum as part of its overall wireless strategy.
Of CBRS, he said, “It’s a lower power than C-band, and it fits very nicely onto our strand architecture. So it can be outside, it can be inside. It can be in enterprise environments. And we can place it where we have traffic utilization needs. And we can save rental costs for MVNO using CBRS."
But he’s always looking at the real money-maker for Charter, which is broadband. He wants to improve the wireless experience for Charter customers because “we think we can use that to drive share and drive broadband relationships,” he said. “It’s really just about extending the connectivity relationship in a way that takes advantage of the broadband infrastructure."