Comcast and Charter forge wireless alliance

Comcast Center headquarters in Philadelphia. Image: Comcast

Comcast and Charter Communications have announced a rather historic partnership between cable operators, hitching their wagons as they both enter the wireless business via separate MVNO deals with Verizon.

Under the agreement, the two regionally distinct MSOs will maintain separate wireless services. But they’ll share technology and information on best practices in terms of marketing, pricing, back-office infrastructure, etc. They’ll also combine leverage in negotiations with wireless vendors, such as handset manufacturers.

Perhaps most intriguing: For one year, neither side can make a major wireless acquisition without the other’s consent. 

This will almost certainly fuel speculation that Comcast and Charter will combine forces to purchase a major wireless carrier.  

"We think this will improve the product offering and lower costs for both companies and it could accelerate Charter's market entry," said New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin in a note to investors Monday morning. "In addition, the partnership could help pave the way for a merger between Comcast and Charter at some point in the future. Finally, the partnership should demonstrate that Cable is serious about the wireless opportunity (for those that still doubt that they will ever launch a product or that they will be successful)."

RELATED: Comcast unveils Xfinity Mobile: No Wi-Fi calling, zero rating, BYOD on service it says will undercut existing carriers

“At Charter, we have a tremendous opportunity in front of us in the wireless space," said Charter Chairmand and CEO Tom Rutledge, in a statement released Monday morning. 

"Within our footprint, our network is perfectly suited to provide the data-rich wireless services that customers are increasingly demanding," Rutledge added. "By working with the team at Comcast, we can not only speed Charter’s entry into the marketplace, it will also enable us to provide more competition and drive costs down for consumers at a similar national scale as current wireless operators. We look forward to working with Comcast through this innovative arrangement and bringing our focus on superior products and services, craftsmanship and quality customer care to the wireless space.”

Added Comcast CEO Brian Roberts: “Both of our companies have regional wireless businesses using the same 4G LTE network, and by working together our goal is to create even better experiences for our customers.”

Comcast is weeks away from launching Xfinity Mobile, which leverages Comcast’s 16 million public Wi-Fi hotspots and its 2011 MVNO deal with Verizon. 

Comcast will offer both unlimited and limited data plans, marketing bundled mobile service only to existing users of its high-speed internet services through already established promotional mechanisms such as direct marketing, call centers and stores.

Preferred customers of its advanced X1 video system will pay $45 each for up to five lines on an unlimited data plan, before taxes and fees, while the typical Xfinity broadband rank and file will pay $65 a line for unlimited service. There’s also a pay-by-usage option priced at $12 per gigabyte. 

Charter has also activated its MVNO agreement with Verizon, but has not yet outlined its wireless service.