Is Comcast planning a wireless network?


Is Comcast planning a wireless network? 

GigaOM reported yesterday that cable giant Comcast has hired industry veteran Dave Williams as senior vice president of wireless and technology strategy. Williams, former CTO of Telefonica O2 Europe and former vice president for strategic planning at Cingular Wireless, is a cellular network guy. I can't imagine he would be hired to head up a wireless initiative that doesn't include a network.

Now that Comcast has ended its relationship with Sprint and the Pivot joint venture, perhaps the company is ready to make a serious wireless play. It was rumored earlier this year that Comcast and Time Warner might be contemplating a strategic investment in Sprint's WiMAX network Xohm but so far that hasn't come to fruition and I doubt this type of arrangement would be any more successful than Pivot. We know from history that having multiple companies involved in a venture usually ends up being a train wreck.

As part of the SpectrumCo joint venture (which consists of Comcast, Cox, Time Warner and others), Comcast has access to $2.37 billion of AWS spectrum.

I suspect that now that the cable companies have stopped selling Pivot service, Comcast is getting serious about using that AWS spectrum. And it may even be contemplating buying more spectrum. In yesterday's FierceWireless poll, 28 percent of respondents said that they thought Comcast would make a bid for NextWave's spectrum (click here to see the results).  NextWave announced yesterday that it was putting its U.S. spectrum holdings, which include licenses and lease rights for a total of 4.7 billion MHz/pops of spectrum, on the block.

Ian Olgierson, senior analyst at SNL Kagan, says that he thinks Comcast's hiring of Williams is an indication that the cable industry not only knows that it needs a wireless component but that it also needs to control the economics of that component. Olgierson says that the cable company CTOs used to be upfront about the importance of owning the wireless network. Recently they have been more cagey about that philosophy; however Olgierson suspects that may be less of a policy shift and more of a strategic decision. In other words, they don't want to reveal their wireless plans for competitive reasons.

I suspect Comcast is tired of putting its wireless future in the hands of other operators like Sprint. Perhaps it's concluded that the only way to succeed at wireless is to build a network.  -Sue