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Comcast, Charter Hint at New MVNO Deals

Mari Silbey

A new wireless partnership announced today between Comcast and Charter may offer a clue as to where the two cable companies are headed next.

The news involves Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Charter Communications Inc. teaming up to develop a joint operating platform for their wireless services, but it also suggests that the cable operators are open to partnering with new players in the mobile industry, expanding beyond an initial MVNO agreement with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ).

The companies say the platform will tie together back-end sales and support systems as well as logistics and customer billing. But the most interesting line in the press release reads as follows: "The operating platform developed by the partnership will serve as the systems interface for current and any future MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) partners." (See Comcast, Charter Launch Mobile Platform Partnership.)

One obvious candidate for a future deal is Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S). Several US cable companies -- including Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks (the latter two now part of Charter) -- previously partnered with Sprint in a joint venture called Pivot more than a decade ago. But that JV ended in 2008.

Far more recently in 2017, Comcast and Charter were reported to be in new talks with Sprint. So far that rumor hasn't amounted to anything, but it's likely the idea for a Sprint MVNO hasn't died. (See Charter, Comcast Eye Sprint Tie-Up – Report.)

Lending further weight to the possibility is the fact that both Altice USA and Cox Communications Inc. have inked agreements with Sprint since late last year. Altice signed an MVNO deal last November, while Cox announced in January that it will provide significant backhaul capacity to boost Sprint's wireless network. (See Altice & Sprint Ink MVNO Deal and Sprint, Cox Go From Patent Suit to Partnership.)

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Providing more details on their latest partnership, which springs from an alliance Comcast and Charter formed 11 months ago, the companies say they will use parts of Comcast's existing Xfinity Mobile operating system to build their joint platform. Each company will ultimately contribute equal funding to the effort, but Charter will finance the venture initially because of the investments Comcast has already made on the technology front. (See also Comcast & Charter Seal Wireless Pact.)

The companies note that all customer-facing activities will be handled separately by each operator. Comcast and Charter will also appoint two executives each to form a board of directors governing the partnership. Development work will take place in Philadelphia using Comcast employees.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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