Comcast, the mobile wireless provider? While a scary notion for critics of ACSI's least popular company in America, it appears to be an increasingly likely prospect.
According to FierceWireless, Comcast dropped hints during a forth-quarter earnings conference call with investors that the company was exploring the wireless market. Comcast chief executive officer Brian Roberts would not confirm with investors whether America’s largest cable provider would be creating “mobile first” products and services, stating that Comcast was "still assessing the possibilities.”
“We don't think this is the time where we chew open what our Wi-Fi plans are," Mr. Roberts said to investors. Though he went on to add, "We do believe in the asset, and we're looking for ways to bring it to market over the next several months."
In addition to the conference call, Comcast recently took out a wanted ad looking for individuals to help the cable provider as it develops “new concepts to 'mobilize' Comcast's core Triple Play business, and we're evaluating potential entries into the wireless ecosystem.”
For Comcast, with its 8.3 million Wi-Fi hotspots, donning a new hat would make sense as the pay-TV market becomes saturated.
Verizon and AT&T took this approach to expand customer reach by offering home TV, phone, and Internet services to consumers, becoming a direct competitor to Comcast. This move could be a way to win back some of the customers Comcast lost.
Additionally, there is already a growing market for Wi-Fi-only services. The high price tag from major wireless carriers has given way to FreedomPop, Republic Wireless, and Scratch Wireless, which offer mobile services as low as $5 a month. Even major carriers such as T-Mobile have rolled out plans that allow users to make calls over Wi-Fi.
Comcast would not be the first service provider to attempt the crossover. This year, Cablevision, a New York cable provider, released its own version of a Wi-Fi mobile plan. Cablevision's Freewheel offers customers unlimited data, text, and talk for $9.95 a month. Unfortunately, as CNET’s series Ask Maggie points out, Cablevision’s plan falls short compared to competitors. Freewheel only works with Wi-Fi hotspots, which is a huge disadvantage considering the other Wi-Fi carriers have partnerships with the likes of Sprint to allow customers to place calls outside these hotspots. Cablevision offers access to its 1.1 million hotspots, free of charge, but they are primarily located in the greater New York area. (There is also some fine print that ups your bill to $30 for Freewheel if you do not have a subscription to Cablevision’s Optimum broadband service.)
Comcast will face stiff competition if it chooses to enter the mobile market, and if the company is smart, it will look at Cablevision’s shortfalls to build up its own network. But with recent customer service memories like giving out inappropriate nicknames to customers, calling the CEO’s mother to resolve an issue, and the recent suit brought against the company for turning homes into hotspots, it raises the question: what kind of deal would Comcast need to offer to attract wireless customers?
[Editor's note: This article has been changed from its original form to clarify that Freewheel phones work on any available Wi-Fi network.]