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Comcast CEO says MVNO deal with Verizon includes CBRS offload

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said yesterday that the company’s mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service runs on “the best network.” Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, he was referring to the fact that Xfinity Wireless rides on Verizon’s network due to a wholesale agreement between the two companies.

Roberts bragged that Comcast and Verizon recently updated their agreement to make improvements.

“We have an agreement in perpetuity that says we get whatever they give themselves in terms of network quality,” said Roberts. “That allows us to give the best mobile product with the best fixed wired broadband product, best Wi-Fi product, if you will.”

In addition, the wholesale agreement specifies that Comcast can use its Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum to offload mobile traffic from Verizon’s network.

In 2020 Comcast bought $458 million worth of priority access licenses (PALs) of CBRS spectrum. Its cable competitor Charter also participated in the CBRS auction, purchasing $464 million worth of the spectrum.

And the two companies, whose MVNOs both ride on Verizon’s network, have alluded to a collaboration related to their CBRS spectrum. They’ve been talking about using CBRS to offload some of their mobile traffic from Verizon’s network to save on wholesale costs.

Yesterday, Roberts said as part of its renegotiation of its Verizon contract it solidified its ability to do some offloading of traffic in heavy-traffic areas so it could “become a hybrid MNO,” essentially using Verizon’s network when that makes sense and using its own CBRS spectrum in areas where that’s possible.

Roberts said, “We bought spectrum in about 80% of our footprint already. And if you take a high-trafficked area, you could — instead of paying someone else to wholesale — you could build your own plan…. and your device wouldn't know the difference whether you're on the MNO network or the MVNO network.”

He added, “We're also able to do that in concert with Charter, so we have one technology roadmap to interface with Verizon. Verizon is happy to offload that traffic, so they don't have to build more capital.”

Comcast currently has about 2 million MVNO customers with about 4 million mobile lines. Of that, 312,000 of those lines were connected during its fourth quarter 2021, which was its highest net-adds quarter to date. “We have 2 million actual customers with 4 million lines out of the 32 million broadband,” said Roberts. “So, we're just getting started.”

He bragged that Comcast’s investment in wireless “is capital-light.”

Comcast has already been somewhat disruptive in mobile by offering two types of plans: an unlimited plan and a by-the-gig usage plan. In addition, these types of plans can be mixed and matched within families. For example, a parent who mainly uses Wi-Fi can choose the by-the-gig plan, while his teenagers might each need the $45/per month unlimited plan.

Yesterday, Roberts said, “So as a consumer, you get to choose which way you want, for which device. Some devices you don't use very much: buy it by the gig. Your primary device, you want unlimited.”

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