Comcast Goes for WiMax Femtocells
”It was hard won, but that’s in the deal,” said Williams, who joined Comcast earlier this year after most recently serving as chief technology officer of Telefónica O2 Europe. (See Comcast's New Wireless SVP .) “We would have liked more [spectrum], but you have to get what you [can] get when you do a deal.” He added that he expected to get 8 Mbit/s downstream with that amount of spectrum.
Comcast, along with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), and two other cable operators -- Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) -- have invested $3.2 billion in the new Clearwire WiMax consortium, and together they will own 22 percent of the new venture. (See Cable Plays Clearwire Card, Sprint: 4G & M&A Still Unclear, Clearwire: We'll Kick LTE's Butt, Can Clearwire Do It?, and Clearwire Won't Use Google's Dark Fiber.)
The dedicated femtocell spectrum will be available for any of the new Clearwire partners to use, but Williams said that the cable operators have more of an incentive to use it because it will offer them a more cost-effective way to deliver wireless services in the home.
As part of the new Clearwire arrangement, Comcast, Bright House, and Time Warner will wholesale WiMax capacity to sell services on to its customers. But Williams said that Comcast is motivated to build out its own femtocell network, because doing so would avoid some of those wholesale costs.
“As part of the WiMax consortium, we have to buy bits and minutes of use,” he said. “If we build our own femtocell network we don’t have to pay for that. So, we have a vested interest in building out femtocells.
“We’ll be pushing WiMax femtocells because we have a good customer base in the home -- we sell HDTV, VOIP, and high-speed Internet connectivity. We want to take that experience in the home and add mobility."
Williams said he envisioned future services and packages that would encourage customers to use their WiMax femtocells and stay on Comcast’s network. “For example, you’ll have very low-cost calling on the femtocell, and you’ll get a higher rate on the macro network."
Williams added that Comcast will now start work on getting a specification developed for WiMax femtocells and getting suppliers on board.
“We have to push a specification through the WiMax Forum and instill enthusiasm among the vendor community. Femtocells are absolutely key to WiMax.” — Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung