Comcast made ‘halfhearted’ show at spectrum auction, analyst says


Comcast’s $1.7 billion bid to acquire spectrum during the FCC’s just-completed Broadcast Incentive Auction is not representative of a cable operator fully committed to entering the wireless business, said MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett.

“Comcast won … I mean lost. Or played to a draws,” Moffett wrote in a Monday morning report to analysts, grading the auction performance of the various major telecom players. “Their seemingly halfhearted participation in the auction may ease fears of a spending spree, but it doesn’t convincingly position them to be network operators. Does that mean they may ultimately buy a wireless operator after all.”

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Purchasing through CC Wireless Investment, Comcast bought 10 MHz of spectrum covering about 145M POPs in its own footprint within New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia. 

Moffett had expected Comcast to spend as much as $6 billion acquiring spectrum at the FCC auction. 

“On the surface, Comcast’s lighter-than-expected participation might be taken by some as good news,” Moffett said. “Certainly, it clearly signals that they will be sober and careful in their approach to wireless, and that the commitments they are making will likely mean a less significant dent to near-term profitability.

“But it’s a lot more complicated than that,” he added. 

For one, Moffett had assumed Comcast would embark on a “barbell” network strategy.

“That is, they would buy a low frequency coverage layer, pair it with a high frequency (out-of-home Wi-Fi) capacity layer, and that they would outsource the middle to Verizon under their MVNO agreement. The agreement, we argued, would evolve into something more like an in-region roaming agreement than a typical MVNO,” the analyst said. 

It’s possible Comcast could still pursue this angle, he added. However, “Comcast’s tepid participation inevitably makes one less confident that Comcast’s long-term intention is to go it alone.”