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Charter Unleashes Spectrum Mobile…Without the iPhone

Jeff Baumgartner

Charter Communications Inc. has quietly launched Spectrum Mobile with pricing and packaging that's similar to Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s for Xfinity Mobile, but is kicking off the service without an Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) device option.

Out of the chute, Spectrum Mobile is supporting several Android smartphones -- LG's K30 and a handful of Samsung models (Galaxy S9+, Galaxy S8, Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S8+).

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Don't expect the iPhone to be absent from Spectrum Mobile's device roster for long.

At Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in June, Apple and Charter announced that the MSO would eventually bring the iconic iPhone and iPad to Spectrum Mobile. As part of a broader marketing and retail relationship, Charter will also pitch the Apple TV device as a set-top box alternative that works with a streaming app that supports Charter's pay-TV service, including live channels and a large video-on-demand library.

Charter confirmed that the Spectrum Mobile website went live on June 30. (See Charter's Mobile Service Details Leak.)

Like Comcast's Xfinity Mobile service, Charter is bundling Spectrum Mobile with its high-speed Internet product and is pitching Unlimited and By the Gig service options.

In addition to creating a new type of broadband/mobile bundle, Charter and Comcast are also eyeing mobile services as a new revenue stream as their pay-TV subscriber bases continue to erode and as broadband subscriber growth begins to flatten out. Comcast, which launched its mobile service in May 2017, added 197,000 Xfinity Mobile customer lines in Q1 2018, ending the period with about 577,000. (See Mobile Is No Passing Fad for US Cable.)

Charter's Unlimited package runs $45 per line, with free talk and text. However, Unlimited still has some limits. Per the fine print, Charter may throttle down mobile speeds once customers on that plan eat more than 20 gigabytes per line, and mobile hotspot speeds are reduced to a maximum of 600 Kbit/s after 5 gigabytes of mobile hotspot data is used.

Charter's By the Gig option is $14 per gigabyte.

By comparison, Comcast's Xfinity Mobile service fetches $45 per line under the Unlimited option, and $12 per gigabyte under its By The Gig option.

Comcast and Charter are both selling mobile services via MVNO deals with Verizon Wireless and both are complementing those services with a large network of WiFi hotspots deployed in customer homes alongside hundreds of thousands of hotspots installed in outdoor and indoor metro locations and business venues. In April, Comcast and Charter formed a 50/50 mobile operating platform deal that aims to bring scale to the backend systems used for their respective mobile services.

Charter and Comcast are also running tests using the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) 3.5GHz band, an emerging shared slice of spectrum that will be used by incumbents, such as the US Navy, with additional capacity set aside for new licensed and unlicensed use cases. Cable operators are particularly interested in using CBRS for small cell networks that can help them offset a portion of their MVNO costs.

Altice USA , which plans to launch a "full" MVNO service next year in partnership with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), also has plans underway to run tests in the CBRS band. (See Altice & Sprint Ink MVNO Deal.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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