Comcast execs create, deflate Wi-Fi mobile network speculation

Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) executives teased analysts with comments that made it seem as if the company's expanded Wi-Fi network--and the potential Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) add-on--would be the gateway to a Wi-Fi-enabled mobile service.

Brian Roberts, Comcast Neil Smit, Comcast

Comcast's Roberts (at left) and Smit.

Then they doused the flames they started by calling speculation "premature."

"Short-term, (Wi-Fi is) a big adder to broadband and longer term, including our MVNO potential and other wireless assets we have in the company, we're in a position to think about where wireless is going and how we can participate in a way to build value," Chairman-CEO Brian Roberts said in answer to an analyst's question during a call discussing first quarter earnings.

In his opening comments, Roberts had described Comcast's focus on wireless gateway deployments as "adding utility to our customers while at the same time helping us create the largest Wi-Fi footprint in the U.S. with over one million public Wi-Fi hotspots available to our customers."

That network would only be enhanced if Comcast is successful in acquiring Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion, as it has proposed, added Neil Smit, president-CEO of Comcast Cable.

"The Time Warner Cable merger would extend the network further and the Wi-Fi network buildout," said Smit during the call. "We see about 75-80 percent of mobile data consumption happening on Wi-Fi in the home and in the office."

That doesn't necessarily translate into a Wi-Fi-backed mobile wireless network, Roberts cautioned.

"It's a premature question," he told an analyst about the potential for a Comcast mobile network using Wi-Fi. "What we're doing is building out hotspots, doing the routers with dual SSIP, finding our customers are enjoying it. The technology is getting better; more spectrum has been allocated to Wi-Fi and long term I think that we're studying that market and encouraged by it."

But, Smit added, "we're very preliminary in that thinking and it's probably too early to say."

For more:
- see the earnings release
- listen to the earnings call

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