Cox could sell off 3G network to a wireless carrier, or dismantle it

Cox Communications could sell its wireless network infrastructure and spectrum to a Tier 1 carrier or abandon the venture completely, the company's president said, potentially ringing the death knell for the MSO's plans to build its own wireless play.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Cox President Pat Esser said the company could sell its network and spectrum to AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) or Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), or just tear the network down.

"In the near term we don't have any plans to sell the spectrum," said Cox spokeswoman Jill Ullman. "There are many, many options we have."

Cox has spent more than $550 million on spectrum in the past few years, including $304.6 million for 700 MHz spectrum. The company built a CDMA EV-DO network on its AWS spectrum in several unnamed markets using equipment from Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei. The company also tested an LTE network on its 700 MHz spectrum in Phoenix and San Diego.

However, Cox launched commercial wireless service in 2010 via an MVNO relationship with Sprint and using Sprint's CDMA network, and has since expanded the service to a number of markets. The action put a question mark on Cox's plans to build out its own network.

Then, several weeks ago, Cox confirmed it will decommission its 3G network and will continue using Sprint's CDMA network for its wireless service. Cox intends to deploy wireless service to more than 50 percent of its footprint by year-end via its MVNO with Sprint.

Interestingly, Cox appears to be readying a 4G play to coincide with its 3G offering; Esser said Cox is in talks with LightSquared to use the company's forthcoming wholesale LTE network, which remains mired in concerns over GPS interference. 

The MSO's key differentiator in wireless is "MoneyBack Minutes," which gives customers a 5-cent credit per each unused voice minute, up to $20 per month. The money appears as a credit on subscribers' bills. Cox's wireless service plans run from $40 per month for 450 minutes to $100 per month for unlimited talking, texting and Web access. The carrier offers a range of handsets, including Android-powered smartphones.

Cox's latest misstep in wireless service is not the MSO's only one in the market. In 2008, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox ended their wireless joint venture, branded Pivot, with Sprint.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article

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Article updated June 16 with clarification from Cox.