Cox: We're 'keeping our options open' for a return to MVNO market

BOSTON -- A top executive for Cox Communications said that the company continues to evaluate whether it will launch an MVNO service, but that it hasn't made a decision either way yet.

"Never say never," said Kelly Williams, VP of Cox's strategic video platforms, here at an event at the INTX trade show for the cable industry. "We're keeping our options open."

Indeed, Williams said that the wireless market's recent embrace of equipment installment plans (EIPs) for devices could help Cox more easily launch an MVNO service. He explained that such handset pricing plans -- which allow customers to pay off their phones in monthly installments -- make it easier for operators to sell smartphones and for users to purchase them. Prior to the industry's shift to EIPs, the cost of a smartphone was generally subsidized through a two-year contract.

However, Williams reiterated that Cox "has no concrete plans at the moment" to launch its own MVNO service.

Williams' comments are notable considering Cox rival Comcast has signaled its intent to ink an MVNO agreement with Verizon and potentially test some kind of wireless service this year. Interestingly, Cox spokesman Todd Smith said that Cox had a similar option to ink an MVNO deal with Verizon, like Comcast did, through Cox's participation in SpectrumCo's sale of AWS spectrum to Verizon in 2011. However, Smith said Cox decided not to activate that option and that option has now expired.

During his comments at INTX, Williams also addressed the wireless industry's move to 5G network technology. He described Cox as an "interested observer" of the 5G process, and explained that the fixed wireless configuration of 5G -- which Verizon expects to launch next year -- creates "a lot of advantages for a cable operator" to potentially get into the 5G game. However, he did not say whether Cox would test or launch such services.

Cox is no stranger to the wireless industry. The company has purchased hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of spectrum during several FCC spectrum auctions, and was in the midst of building a small 3G wireless network in 2010 in order to offer wireless services as part of a quad-play bundle alongside its cable operations. However, the company in 2011 discontinued those plans and scrapped its network due to "the lack of wireless scale necessary to compete in the marketplace, the acceleration of competitive 4G networks as well as the inability to access iconic wireless devices." Cox briefly operated as a Sprint MVNO while it was building its wireless network.

In the cable industry, Cox has remained apart from the recent spate of consolidation. Charter Communications is likely days away from closing its blockbuster $67 billion purchases of both Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, which will make the company the nation's second-largest cable operator with 24 million customers, just behind Comcast. Separately, Europe's Altice has purchased Suddenlink and appears close to closing its purchase of Cablevision.

Related articles:
Verizon to buy Cox's AWS spectrum for $315M
Cox abandons wireless service
Verizon to buy SpectrumCo's AWS spectrum for $3.6B

Article updated May 19 to correct information about Cox's wireless network.