Executives from cable giants Comcast and Charter Communications were mostly unanimous in their appraisal of the wireless business: It’s tough, and they’re largely content to enter it through their respective MVNO agreements with Verizon.
“No disrespect to wireless, but that’s a tough business. We like what we’re doing with Xfinity Mobile. It really improves what we hope it will improve,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said during the company’s quarterly conference call today.
“I would say I agree with Comcast’s point of view on that,” echoed Charter Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge during his company’s quarterly conference call, which was held just hours after Comcast’s own call. “We like our MVNO, we like our relationship with Comcast, and we do think the [wireless] industry has a lot of challenges.”
Importantly, both Comcast and Charter have MVNO agreements with Verizon that stem from a sale of AWS spectrum licenses to Verizon 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 potentially next year. Further, Comcast and Charter in May announced a teaming to “explore potential opportunities for operational cooperation in their respective wireless businesses to accelerate and enhance each company’s ability to participate in the national wireless marketplace.”
Nonetheless, both Comcast’s Roberts and Charter’s Rutledge today offered largely fainthearted comments about their interest in directly entering the wireless industry. Interestingly, Comcast’s executives offered further insight into the initial performance of the company’s Xfinity Mobile MVNO, whereas Roberts boasted that “while it’s still early days, the customer feedback confirms our belief that we have an attractive proposition in the market.”
Specifically, Comcast executives said that roughly half of the company’s new Xfinity Mobile customers are signing up for the service through Comcast’s digital channels. Further, the executives said that most Xfinity Mobile customers are selecting the company’s per-GB pricing plans, rather than the unlimited data tier. Xfinity Mobile offers each GB of data for $12, or unlimited plans starting at $45 per month.
The success of Xfinity Mobile’s per-GB pricing is particularly noteworthy considering Verizon attributed much of its own successes in wireless in the second quarter to the popularity of its unlimited plans.
Despite the relatively timid attitude toward wireless that Comcast and Charter executives showed during their respective quarterly conference calls today, the companies likely remain engaged in possible merger-and-acquisition discussions in the space. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Sprint Chairman Masayoshi Son struck a two-month, exclusive deal to hold discussions with Charter and Comcast through July, focusing on potential wireless partnership arrangements.