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Charter talks with AT&T about wholesale MVNO agreement

Charter has a wholesale agreement for its mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) traffic to ride on Verizon’s network. But speaking on a MoffettNathanson investor call today, Charter CEO Tom Rutledge said, “We have a good relationship with AT&T. We have had discussions about the MVNO. They’re interested in having a relationship with us, and we’re interested in having a relationship with them.”

Rutledge also talked about how the coronavirus crisis has highlighted the value of the home Wi-Fi network, which relies on the home wired broadband network. He said that 80% of the bits from its Spectrum Mobile subscribers’ mobile devices “are actually traveling over the Wi-Fi network connected to our network.”

Rutledge pointed out that when its Spectrum Mobile subscribers are home, their traffic rides on Charter’s Wi-Fi network. “It frees the burden on the mobile network and puts the burden on our network, which is quite capable,” he said. “Eighty percent of the value of a mobile device is fixed-location use.”

He isn’t the only one noting the value of Wi-Fi networks that are handling so much of the traffic during the coronavirus pandemic. And he’s eyeing further opportunity to “augment” networks with the use of CBRS spectrum.

Charter has been doing some trials of fixed wireless access (FWA) in North Carolina, and it plans to begin another CBRS trial in Ohio.

Rutledge gave an example of using a combination of CBRS spectrum and Wi-Fi to “build product on a fixed wireline network like ours.” He mentioned farms and even “large yards” where Charter could provide wireless connectivity that was not part of a regular mobile network.

There are plenty of people who are talking about the opportunities that CBRS spectrum will provide to create private wireless networks.

And Charter executives have, in the past, said they’re studying the possibilities for using CBRS, not only for MVNO offload, but also for fixed wireless and private LTE. “We think all those use cases are ideal for a cable company to use CBRS. We look at fixed wireless access for a rural broadband extension…We’re trying to edge out on the boundary of our HFC plant,” said Craig Cowden, SVP of wireless technology at Charter Communications, in November 2019 at a FierceWireless event.

At today’s MoffettNathanson event, Rutledge said Charter could use CBRS to take traffic off Verizon’s network and to also “augment” its own Wi-Fi offering.

“I look at our mobile business as an enhancement of our broadband business,” said Rutledge. “To the extent I can provide good mobile to customers, I can create a lot of growth for the purpose of driving satisfaction in my broadband business. The notion of wireless, wireline and fixed wireless are converging.”


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