Comcast eyes 3.5 GHz CBRS for both fixed and mobile applications, including commercial handsets

Comcast Xfinity Mobile
Comcast launched its Xfinity Mobile service last year. (Comcast)

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, is hoping to test mobile and fixed wireless services using the 3.5 GHz CBRS band. The company said it would conduct the tests in Philadelphia, where it is headquartered.

“Comcast will conduct outdoor and indoor fixed and mobile testing in a small targeted portion of the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, market within its service territory. Specifically, testing will be conducted within a 7 km radius,” the company said in its FCC application for the tests. “The field test will evaluate coverage, throughput, and mobility of equipment and facilities operating in the CBRS band to obtain data and advance Comcast’s understanding of the full potential of the technology and equipment utilized in these experimental operations. The field testing will also evaluate the performance of pre-commercial equipment in the CBRS band.”

Interestingly, Comcast also hinted at its interest in CBRS-capable phones: “Through the use of mobile test devices and commercial handsets (i.e. ‘End User Equipment’), Comcast will evaluate propagation characteristics for model verification, data throughput performance, inter-cell interference, and advanced Spectrum Access System (‘SAS’) functionality.”

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That Comcast is interested in the 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum band comes as little surprise. The company is a member of the CBRS Alliance. And last year Comcast appears to have called in vendor Nokia to conduct CBRS tests in its headquarters.

But Comcast’s application for its own tests may well indicate a deeper interest in deploying services in the 3.5 GHz band. The FCC is moving toward releasing that spectrum for commercial use this year through a new spectrum-sharing program. A wide range of companies have expressed interest in the band, including T-Mobile, Charter, Google and others.

Indeed, Comcast’s fellow cable company Charter Communications has made no secret of its desire to use the CBRS band as a way to build out wireless services. Charter hinted last month that its initial tests of fixed wireless services in the 3.5 GHz band show that it can provide 25 Mbps services at “significant distances.” Charter had previously disclosed that it is conducting tests of fixed and mobile services in the band but had not yet offered any details on the results of those tests.

Comcast’s interest in mobile devices in the CBRS band could dovetail with the company’s new Verizon MVNO, Xfinity Mobile. Already, Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile wireless service roams onto the company’s public Wi-Fi hotspots, and Comcast could be looking to build additional CBRS-capable locations that could handle traffic from the company’s Xfinity Mobile customers. Presumably such a design would reduce the amount of money Comcast would pay to Verizon for the use of its network as an MVNO.