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Verizon Wireless: Cable’s New BFF

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
12/5/2011
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When it comes to a new deal struck between Verizon Wireless , Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Bright House Networks , the cable MSOs are apparently in it for the long haul. The real long haul. (See MSOs Sell AWS Spectrum to Verizon for $3.6B .)

The optional MVNO component of the multi-faceted deal, which enters play in about four years, includes terms that will let the MSOs resell services on Verizon Wireless's mobile network into "perpetuity," Comcast Cable President Neil Smit said Monday at a UBS AG investor's conference.

It's an important admission since U.S. cable operators, including the three that are now working with Verizon Wireless, have dipped their toes in and out of the wireless waters several times but have yet to take the plunge. They backed out of the original Pivot resale venture with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and are six months away from halting the sale of mobile broadband services delivered over Sprint's 3G network and Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) WiMax network. (See Comcast, TW Cable to Halt Clearwire Sales and MSOs Pivoting Away From Sprint JV.)

But Smit likes the new deal because it answers Comcast's long-term needs without a huge network-building cash outlay. "It's great because we don’t have to invest in building a wireless network," he said. "We're not going to go out and acquire a wireless player, so it gives us access to what we feel is the best [wireless] network out there for a long time."

Smit emphasized that Comcast will continue to compete with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)'s FiOS video and high-speed Internet services. In fact, Comcast and the other MSO partners will be able to use Verizon Wireless against FiOS.

The innovation technology J.V. element of the deal, to be split between the MSOs and Verizon Wireless, "will be a very important strategic, competitive advantage," Smit added, noting that the work that results from that will, for example, allow Comcast customers to start watching video on smartphones and resume it when they get home. That part of the deal will also let Comcast customers buy phones at Verizon Wireless stores with their cable profiles pre-loaded so customers can purchase the device and start watching video on it wirelessly almost immediately, he said.

Even before the MVNO play becomes possible, the initial agency piece of the deal, which will let the MSOs sell their services in Verizon Wireless stores and vice-versa, will begin to ramp up next year. Comcast, Smit said, is looking for that part to go live in four markets in the early part of 2012. "Teams are meeting already," he said.

And that element will get underway separate from the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum sale, which is going through its own process and, pending government reviews, isn't expected to be completed until the second half of next year.

So what does Sprint and CEO Dan Hesse, Comcast's erstwhile mobile partner, think of all this? "I think there's some recognition that we're setting a bit of a different strategy, and I think they understand it," said Comcast CFO and Vice Chairman Michael Angelakis. "From a business perspective, they congratulated us."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable



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