With 11M public Wi-Fi hotspots, Comcast's Roberts hints at role of Wi-Fi in mobile video

Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) CEO Brian Roberts said that wireless carriers' increasing focus on mobile video could create opportunities for MSOs like Comcast, which he said now offers fully 11 million public Wi-Fi hotspots across the country.

Roberts' comments are noteworthy considering Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is gearing up to launch its new Go90 mobile video service, which features content intended specifically for Verizon's smartphone user base. Meantime, AT&T (NYSE: T) has hinted that it too may develop more mobile video products following the close of its DirecTV acquisition.

"All of that works better on Wi-Fi, where people's bills don't go up based on usage," Roberts said today during the cable conglomerate's appearance at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia investment bank conference in New York. "And we're very much in the conversation going forward."

"We don't have news today, other than to say we're working on ways to [leverage] our Wi-Fi, our 11 million hot spots and our MVNO relationships," he said. "Every day, it's a new day, and we're hopeful that as people make decisions, they're going to want our Wi-Fi."

The 11 million figure also is noteworthy. Comcast most recently counted more than 10 million public hotspots during its second quarter earnings announcement. Thus, the company appears to be continuing to expand its public Wi-Fi footprint.

The cable industry may well play a significant position in the growth of mobile video, as indicated by a recent teaming between T-Mobile US and Bright House Networks. T-Mobile is currently testing a Wi-Fi offloading service on Bright House's Passpoint-capable public Wi-Fi hotspots in Florida. The companies did not disclose the financial details of that teaming, though it's reasonable to assume that T-Mobile is paying Bright House for the traffic its customers offload onto the MSO's hotspots.

At the Communicopia event, Roberts sat alongside Comcast's new CFO, Michael Cavanagh, a former Carlyle Group executive.

"It has been around 100 days, and when Brian called me about this job, it wasn't something that was on my mind," Cavanagh said, an executive with no prior cable industry experience who replaced Michael Angelakis as CFO in May. "I've been to California, Florida, all around the cable systems … There are a lot of similarities to what the consumer financial services business put me through."

Cavanagh fielded questions on margins and EBITDA. But it was Roberts who handled broader issues relating to products and strategy. Roberts, for the most part, stayed on messages that have grown very familiar in recent months, touting the strong numbers coming out of NBCUniversal -- cash flow has doubled since Comcast bought the company -- as well as Comcast's improving subscriber metrics.

Cavanagh, meanwhile, chimed in only occasionally, prefacing several of his statements with, "as the new guy."

Prior to joining Comcast, he said, he viewed the MSO as "a projected incumbent who wants the world to say the same. But that's not what I see from inside the company. There is very much an attitude that consumer tastes are changing."

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