Comcast has seen tremendous growth reselling wireless service through a wholesale partnership with Verizon. But now, it’s ready to launch its own network to augment that coverage.
The company said on Tuesday that it will be utilizing a swath of radio airwaves called Citizens Broadband Radio Service to power the service, which launches in Philadelphia first and provide more coverage and capacity to Xfinity Mobile and Comcast Business Mobile customers.
Comcast sees the mobile business, which launched in 2017, as an increasingly important element of its bundle, offering aggressive promotions on wireless tacked on with broadband and video services. The company boasts nearly 6 million wireless subscribers as of the end of the second quarter. By launching its own network, Comcast can offer a differentiated service from the carriers and tout expanded coverage that the company has full control over. That means more competition in the 5G sphere for carriers like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, which are trying to eat into cable with their 5G home broadband service.
“Wireless and its convergence with broadband is a key part of our strategy, and it can deliver unbeatable benefits.” said Tom Nagel, senior vice president of wireless strategy for Comcast, in a blog post.
The CBRS spectrum that Comcast is using is a little different from the licensed airwaves employed by the likes of Verizon and AT&T. The wireless carriers will spend billions of dollars to take full control of specific bands of airwaves, often booting out previous users to make room for their own service. But Comcast’s CBRS spectrum is shared by multiple users, including incumbents like the U.S. Navy. A network of sensors are in place to guard against interference.
CBRS runs at a frequency of 3550 Mhz and 3700 Mhz in the 3.5 GHz band, according to Motorola Solutions, which puts it in the category of “mid band” spectrum that has a good mix of speed and range.
Nagel said that the company’s success with using CBRS means that it won’t be using another swath of spectrum it purchased, which runs on the lower frequency 600 Mhz band. Comcast said that it had agreed to sell some, if not all, of its 600MHz spectrum holdings to T-Mobile. The deal is valued between $1.2 and $3.3 billion, depending on how much spectrum T-Mobile acquires.
“This strong CBRS spectrum performance has made us realize that we are unlikely to need the 600 MHz spectrum licenses that we currently hold to support our wireless customers,” Nagel said.
Comcast said because T-Mobile already used the 600MHz spectrum, it “makes sense” to enter into the “lease to purchase” arrangement so T-Mobile can start using the spectrum with no delay and continue improving its low-band holdings.
The cable giant is starting to make bigger waves in the 5G world. Comcast and AT&T joined the 5G Open Innovation Lab, a group dedicated to investing in new businesses and applications that take advantage of 5G wireless technology. The two broadband giants are now among other founding partners like Dell, Intel, Microsoft, Deloitte, and Nokia.
The popularity and interest in 5G has resulted in the technology outpacing its 3G and 4G predecessors. While customers have embraced 5G, they still want to have a better understanding of what it can do. This is where initiatives from groups like 5G Open Innovation Lab come into play.
Comcast’s decision to launch its own 5G mobile network further erases the idea of cable TV as we once knew it.