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Cable Undergoing Extensive Wireless Transformation

Craig Leddy
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Craig Leddy
7/13/2018
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Charter Communications' recent launch of Spectrum Mobile is the latest foray by cable into the wireless business. While mobile likely will be the most-watched service in determining the success of cable's wireless endeavors, behind the scenes the industry is exploring a wide number of emerging technologies and opportunities. (See Charter Unleashes Spectrum Mobile…Without the iPhone .)

Together these efforts represent a wide-ranging effort by wired cable providers to undergo a wireless transformation, according to a new Heavy Reading research report, Heavy Reading report, "Air Attack: Cable Adding New Wireless Weapons." The report provides a comprehensive update of US cable providers' wireless activity, including a status report card on the top four cable providers and a listing of 19 suppliers serving the US cable industry with wireless equipment and solutions.

Cable's wireless transformation is based upon a variety of established and emerging technologies. The report provides the latest information on cable's efforts, including:

  • WiFi, now numbering a combined total of more than 20 million hotspots, including public hotspots and homespots that are enabled by in-home dual-band routers and gateway set-top boxes.

  • Mobile phone, including low-priced WiFi-first Verizon mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) services Xfinity Mobile, which Heavy Reading estimates has attracted more than 750,000 customers, and Spectrum Mobile, as well as Altice USA's MVNO with Sprint slated for a Q1 2019 launch.

  • Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) trials and explorations by Charter, Comcast and Altice USA to test the potential of wireless services in the 3.5GHz band that the Federal Communications Commission has proposed for shared usage.

  • LoRa wireless protocol being used by Comcast's machineQ and Cox Communications' Cox2M services for low-power wide area networks (WANs) that carry commands for a rapidly growing number of Internet of Things (IoT) business applications.

  • 5G small cell trials and the potential for backhaul services, as well as fixed and mobile services in the future.

In another significant development, Comcast and Charter in April announced a 50/50 operating platform partnership consisting of backend systems for their mobile customer sales and support systems. The joint back-office platform, and a similar effort by Altice USA, will give the cable providers more control over their mobile destiny, Heavy Reading believes. Meanwhile, Comcast in 2017 paid $1.7 billion for channels in the 600MHz band and has yet to reveal what it will do with the spectrum. (See Comcast, Charter Hint at New MVNO Deals.)

While to some observers these efforts may appear to be like throwing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks, together they represent a major transformation by wired providers that are eager to go wireless, according to the report. The report addresses market drivers and complementary technologies that are whetting cable's appetite.

Building off its expanding fiber and coaxial foundation, cable is utilizing wireless to extend its current services and explore new revenue opportunities. Cable leaders foresee further integration of wireless and wired capabilities through converged devices in the network and in homes and businesses, truly making them wireless companies.

— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading

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