Year in Review: Big cable gets into wireless


FierceCable is wrapping up an eventful 2016 by taking a hard look at five of the most important trends and developments that emerged in the market this year. Today we look at the final topic in this series, the move by cable into wireless.

The news: Cable operators have long played in the wireless industry, whether through participation in spectrum auctions, joint ventures with wireless carriers, or buildouts of public Wi-Fi networks. However, 2016 was the year the industry’s biggest companies finally announced ambitious — or at least somewhat ambitious, anyway — wireless plans.

Both Comcast and Charter confirmed that, they’ll be launching services based on their respective MVNO deals that were carved out in 2011 with Verizon.

Already, Comcast has a team of around 150 working under recently promoted wireless chief Greg Butz, with plans to launch some kind of commercial offering in 2017.

“We believe there will be a big payback, with reduced churn, more stickiness and greater customer satisfaction,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told investors in September. “We’ve seen how with X1, the whole momentum of the company has been lifted, and we hope to do it again.”

Signaling just how broad its wireless ambitions are, in October Comcast also announced an agreement with Semtech Corp. for the trial deployment of LoRa-based low-power wide-areas network (LPWAN) technology in the U.S.

Meanwhile, speaking at the SCTE’s Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia in September, Charter’s top tech exec, Jim Blackley, belied ambitions beyond just the MVNO deal. He sees Charter eventually building its own wireless network.

Why it’s important: It’s clear that cable giants face major challenges in wireless from Verizon and AT&T. Still, with continually expanding Wi-Fi footprints and major investments in backhaul for wireless, Comcast and Charter could finally succeed where past cable efforts to break into wireless failed. And there’s good reason to be excited about that opportunity.

As Shaw CTO Zoran Stakic told FierceCable September, since his company was able to acquire Wind Mobile in Canada, he’s been in disbelief at how powerful a combination it is once a company can offer broadband, Wi-Fi and LTE.

“I think we’ll be able to deliver solutions for our customers that we didn’t think were possible a few years ago,” Stakic said.