Liberty’s Fries warns Comcast’s Werner: ‘You’re going to find out’ how competitive wireless is

Liberty has launched mobile in nine European customers, some of its networks based on MVNO arrangements. (Liberty Global)

DENVER—Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries told an SCTE keynote audience this morning that adding mobile services to his cable conglomerate’s European portfolio has reduced churn and driven engagement. 

“Quad play works,” Fries said in a panel-format event, keynoted by Comcast technology czar Tony Werner. He said Liberty has launched mobile in nine European customers, some of its networks based on MVNO arrangements. 

But Fries also had a word of caution for Werner, whose own company recently launched a mobile service that it’s bundling with landline broadband, video and phone. 

“The competition is pretty fierce,” Fries said. “You’re going to find this out pretty quick.”

Fries said there are 120 wireless operators in Europe alone. “That’s more [operators] in Luxembourg than in all of China,” he noted. 

Eventually, he added, wireless operators like Liberty and Comcast need to graduate to owning their own wireless network infrastructure. 

“There is no running away from the economics,” he said. “If you’re renting it, your margins are skinny, and how do you compete with all the unlimited plans out there?”

Speaking about other competitive issues, Fries said the cooperative move by Liberty and Comcast to put their respective video platforms on a common platform, RDK, has been a success. 

“We’re fighting fire with fire,” noting that Liberty’s Horizon and Comcast’s X1 deliver advanced features that compete with OTT competition. “We’ve closed the functionality gap.”

Fries also responded to questions about Puerto Rico, where Liberty has a significant cable operation with around 1,000 employees. He said less than 1% of the company’s operations are back on line following last month’s hurricane disaster. 

“It’s about as bad as it gets, but we’ll rebuild,” Fries said.