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Comcast, Charter CEOs point to emerging CBRS partnership

The devil's still in the details, but the CEOs of Comcast and Charter Communications both referenced this week the emergence of a CBRS-focused relationship that will enable their mobile customers to offload traffic on their respective CBRS-powered small cell networks.

Brian Roberts, Comcast's chairman and CEO, cryptically referenced such a CBRS-facing relationship Wednesday at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. He said Comcast, which won CBRS spectrum covering about 80% of its footprint, is "working with Charter" in a way that would help offload traffic in high-density areas.

Charter Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge confirmed the relationship and expanded on it at the same event today, noting that it's an example of how two large regional players can work together in a mobile market that includes a group of national competitors.

"We used our relationship to create a synthetic, national opportunity by creating a CBRS business. We had a meeting of the minds on how that could work and how we could offload traffic and how both companies could benefit their customer bases by having this offload process and capability and how that could save consumers money – not just for Charter customers but…for customers of both companies," Rutledge explained. "It's a good testament to how companies who are in a certain kind of environment can work together to create real value."

Update: Comcast underplayed the CBRS-facing activity that was referenced by the respective company executives, noting there is no formal CBRS business relationship between the companies at this time.

Other mobile and wireless connections

CBRS offloading aside, Comcast and Charter have been closely aligned on mobile and wireless for some time. For one, they both offer their respective mobile services through MVNO deals with Verizon. In 2018, Charter and Comcast forged a 50/50 joint mobile operating agreement to develop and design backend systems for the Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile services. Additionally, Comcast and Charter are also among the cable operators tied to a Wi-Fi roaming consortium that was formed almost ten years ago.

This new CBRS-related arrangement appears to expand the scope of how Comcast and Charter will work together on the mobile front going forward.

Both Charter and Comcast have conducted CBRS trials. Charter, which paid $465 million for 210 CBRS priority access licenses at auction, plans to build out its first CBRS network in a yet-to-be-announced market by the end of the year, with a focus on dense high-usage areas.

Comcast has not announced any specific CBRS-related market buildout plans, but company CFO Mike Cavanagh suggested earlier this month that Comcast is not in a rush as the company continues to explore the economics and opportunities linked to its current MVNO agreement with Verizon.

"I think time needs to pass before you see us actively doing anything on that front, given the dynamics that we're faced with today," Cavanagh said of Comcast's CBRS plans at the recent Bank of America 2021 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference.

It's not clear if any CBRS-related activity between Charter and Comcast will adjust or hasten their respective plans to deploy CBRS-powered small cell networks in high-usage areas.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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