Charter looks beyond MVNO model as it prepares to launch wireless next year

Charter 5G
Charter plans to leverage 5G technologies to provide fixed wireless services.

Charter Communications reiterated plans to launch wireless service in the first half of next year, but the company clearly has its eyes on being more than just another MVNO.

Like its cable rival Comcast, Charter has an MVNO agreement with Verizon that stems from a sale of AWS spectrum licenses to the nation’s largest mobile network operator by a group of cable companies in 2011. Comcast has already launched its Xfinity Mobile offering leveraging that MVNO deal, and Charter has promised a similar effort next year.

“We're on track to launch our wireless service in 2018 using our MVNO agreement with Verizon,” CEO Tom Rutledge said on the company’s quarterly earnings call Thursday, according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha. “Our core operation agreement with Comcast has helped with that process. When offered as part of our bundle, we expect Spectrum branded wireless services to drive more sales of our core products and to create longer customer lives.”

Charter has outlined plans to pursue an “inside-out” strategy starting with a Wi-Fi-first MVNO, then expanding into developing its own mobile infrastructure using LTE small cells. Charter offered a more detailed view into its plans via a filing it recently made with the FCC, detailing a meeting between Charter executives, including the company’s wireless chief Craig Cowden, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, alongside other FCC officials.

“The wireless component of Charter’s network is transitioning from a nomadic Wi-Fi network to one that that supports full mobility by incorporating Wi-Fi with multiple 4G and 5G access technologies to deliver a seamless connectivity experience,” Charter wrote in its filing. “In navigating this transition, Charter is emphasizing an ‘Inside-Out’ strategy, focusing first on wireless solutions inside the home and office, and then eventually expanding outdoors.”

Charter hopes to use 3.5 GHz spectrum for both licensed and unlicensed use. The operator is urging the FCC to move quickly to release the spectrum, but also to put rules around the spectrum that would keep licenses geographically no bigger than a county.

As Charter’s wireless business evolves, it is looking to leverage 5G technologies to deploy fixed wireless services more efficiently that it can through traditional cable networks. And the Charter aims to offer symmetrical 10 GB network speeds through both wireless and fixed-line offerings, Rutledge said.

“And so we think that there's a tremendous opportunity not just to have a MVNO and a mobile business, but to create new products in a fixed environment,” the CEO continued. “And that may mean specific point-to-point products that allow us to get to buildings that we don't serve currently in a less expensive way. That's a simple across a parking lot for commercial services type deployment, but also to reaching unserved rural areas and also to creating brand-new products that don't even exist today that require high capacity, low latency, high-compute networks, what people think of as virtual reality products.”