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Charter to start first CBRS market buildout in 2021

Charter plans to build out its first CBRS network in a yet-unnamed market by the end of this year, with a focus on dense, high-usage areas, Tom Rutledge, Charter's president and CEO, said today at MoffettNathanson's 8th Annual Media & Communications Summit.

Charter, which put up $465 million for 210 CBRS priority access licenses, already has a good sense of where it will need to put its radios. "We know where the traffic is already," Rutledge said. "We know where to put the CBRS radios to get the maximum offload capability."

Spectrum Mobile added 300,000 lines in Q1 2021, ending the period with 2.67 million.  
(Image source: Charter Communications)
Spectrum Mobile added 300,000 lines in Q1 2021, ending the period with 2.67 million.
(Image source: Charter Communications)

Once CBRS is lit up in that first yet-to-be-revealed market, Charter intends to develop a "practical model" that tells the company how best to move and offload traffic appropriately before expanding its rollouts, he added.

As reported by Light Reading, Charter has already been exploring the contours of a mobile network in cities such as Dallas, New York and Orlando.

Rutledge also stressed that the availabilily of dual SIM handsets will play a role in timing how CBRS traffic offload will help reduce MVNO-related costs. "It's a number of years yet before you get the full benefit of the CBRS offload strategy," he predicted. Charter has previously discussed plans to use eSIM technology to push traffic onto Charter's own wireless infrastructure.

But offload is just one benefit Charter expects to draw from CBRS. The technology can also be used as a line extender and to cover industrial zones where it would be expensive to create a physical/wireline network.

"So it's an offload strategy, but it's also a market-creation opportunity," Rutledge said.

Mulling revised mobile packages and pricing

Rutledge also hinted that Charter has considered new pricing plans and options along the lines of the new choices that Comcast recently introduced to address families that require multiple lines of service.

Charter's still mum on what's to come for Spectrum Mobile."We will be driving price going forward," Rutledge said. "In the end, we'll have less expensive mobile products than most people."

Rutledge also stood by earlier assertions that Charter would need about 2 million mobile lines to make the Spectrum Mobile business profitable. Spectrum Mobile added 300,000 lines in Q1 2021, ending the period with 2.67 million – so it's well past that threshold.

Charter already sells Spectrum Mobile to broadband customers, but appears to be gearing up to put even more emphasis on the wireline/wireless bundle. "From a functional point of view, they become one," Rutledge said "Mobile is just a subset of connectivity."

Big TV bundle shrinking, but not on verge of collapse

When asked to discuss the declining pay-TV business, Rutledge acknowledged that the "big, fat, everything" TV bundle remains expensive and under excessive pressure. He expects the market for large, traditional pay-TV packages to decline further, but doesn't see them being wiped from the face of the Earth anytime soon.

"It's hard for me to believe that there won't be any linear TV at all in the near term," Rutledge said. "I think the model is under pressure. It's been under pressure for a long time. I don't think it's about to collapse, but I do think it's shrinking rapidly."

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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