Comcast leaves the door open to using Wi-Fi, MVNO deals for wireless offering

Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) is open to leveraging its 11 million Wi-Fi hotspots and its MVNO relationships with wireless carriers into something more, but has no current plans to enter the wireless market with its own offering, according to CEO Brian Roberts.

"We have relationships that can be put together in new business constructs that we have not heretofore done," Roberts said yesterday at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference.

Comcast and Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) have a contract dating from 2011 that lets Comcast operate as an MVNO of Verizon Wireless, but Comcast has not taken advantage of that. Additionally, Comcast had formerly been an investor in Clearwire and a wholesale customer of its WiMAX network. Sprint (NYSE: S) purchased Clearwire in 2013. Comcast also sold products that rode on Sprints' 3G CDMA network. A Sprint spokesman confirmed to FierceWireless in July that Sprint has "wireless arrangements with Comcast tied to their original investment in Clearwire," but declined to comment beyond that. 

"We are hopeful that as people make decisions, they are going to want our Wi-Fi and our relationship, our broadband, as part of that," Roberts said. "And if we can enhance that by someday having an offering, we will see."

Roberts said Comcast sees its Wi-Fi network and its MVNO relationships as assets for the company "and hopefully, we will have more to talk about down the road. It is an area that I think we can create value for our shareholders and give more value to the consumers."

Comcast and Verizon are reportedly discussing whether and how they should renegotiate their deal, according to July report from the Wall Street Journal. The wireless industry has shifted significantly since the deal was struck, and Comcast is exploring how much flexibility it would have to sell shared data plans, the report said.

The agreement stems from Verizon's 2011 purchase of AWS-1 spectrum from Comcast, Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), Bright House Networks and Cox Communications. The FCC approved the deals in the summer of 2012 and permitted the MVNO agreements, but the cable companies have not launched wireless offerings related to the deal. 

A person close to Comcast, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the company's thinking, told FierceWireless at that time that Comcast thinks it has a "very attractive" agreement that gives it the flexibility it needs to compete in wireless. The agreement also covers future advances in wireless technologies.  

Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo has told the Journal that Comcast may want to renegotiate its deal. "That agreement is old now, it's stale," he said. Shammo said discussions between Verizon and Comcast over the contract are "ongoing."

"We're confident a mutually beneficial arrangement can be achieved," a Verizon spokesman told the WSJ.

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) CEO John Legere has said that "as the cable players try to create and use Wi-Fi as a capability to serve their subscribers, you know that a partnership of sorts between a cable player with Wi-Fi and broadband in the home and a player like T-Mobile is better, you just know that."

Legere said in July it would be logical for T-Mobile to partner with a cable player like Comcast.

Roberts, at the Goldman Sachs conference, said that in terms of M&A, he feels "very, very focused and content with what we have got. At the same time, you never say never. The world keeps changing. You look around what others are doing. And you do it with a financial discipline and a goal to finding value for shareholders."

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