5G will be available from Comcast's Xfinity Mobile and Charter's Spectrum Mobile at some point in the future, the companies confirmed to Light Reading.
The cable companies currently offer 4G LTE mobile services through an MVNO agreement with Verizon. The companies said they will also be able to offer 5G via the agreement. However, neither Comcast nor Charter would say when they plan to launch 5G services through their respective mobile brands.
The news is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, it provides the nation's two biggest cable companies with a competitive response to the wireless industry's gradual but seemingly inexorable move from 4G to 5G. Already companies like Sprint, Verizon and AT&T have been boasting of their various 5G and 5G-branded offerings.
And while 5G may not be terribly important in 2019 -- one researcher found that US wireless carriers sold a grand total of 29,000 5G phones in the second quarter -- it will certainly become increasingly important as companies like Apple and Samsung introduce more phones supporting 5G connections. Apple, for example, is widely expected to release a 5G-capable iPhone in 2020.
Further, 5G from Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile could put increasing pressure on wireless companies like U.S. Cellular that are already feeling the heat from the cable companies' entry into the wireless sector.
For Verizon, the news is important because it signals the company's willingness to provide access to its 5G network on a wholesale basis. Verizon has bet much of its corporate future on the success of 5G, and has been rolling out the service in parts of a handful of cities around the country. But it nonetheless appears willing to share the fruits of its labors with Comcast and Charter.
That's a bit ironic considering Verizon is using 5G technology to directly challenge both Comcast and Charter in the market for in-home broadband. Verizon said it will expand its fixed wireless 5G Home service to additional locations later this year -- the offering represents a wireless alternative to the wired Internet services for sale by cable companies and others.
The MVNO relationship that Comcast and Charter have with Verizon stems from the cable companies' sale of their AWS spectrum holdings to Verizon in 2011 for $3.6 billion. That agreement basically allows the cable companies to piggyback on Verizon's wireless network; the cable companies provide services like marketing, customer activation and billing while Verizon handles the underlying connectivity. Comcast launched its Xfinity Mobile MVNO in 2017, and has so far grown the business to nearly 1.6 million lines of service. Charter, meantime, launched its own Spectrum Mobile offering last year, and currently counts around 518,000 total lines.
As Light Reading recently reported, both cable companies have worked to reduce their MVNO payments to Verizon by pushing their mobile customers' traffic onto WiFi networks.
Finally, the cable MVNO space is set to grow by one more player in the coming weeks. Altice USA is planning to launch services through Sprint this summer, and has been testing the offering with employees under the "Altice Mobile" brand at $25 per month per line. Altice also appears poised to offer 5G at some point in the future, considering the company recently withdrew its opposition to the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile following T-Mobile's "commitments to the FCC to provide Altice USA with access to the New T-Mobile network inclusive of 5G services."