The rumors that Comcast could be your next wireless carrier are set to come true in 2017. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts confirmed the company plans to roll out an MVNO-based (mobile virtual network operator) service by mid-2017. Roberts made the remarks during the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference on Tuesday.
When the service rolls out it will be similar to Google's Project Fi. Comcast will rely first and foremost on its far-flung network of public Wi-Fi hotspots, which currently number around 15 million across the U.S. When a Comcast wireless customer can’t use Wi-Fi the phones will use Verizon’s network to stay connected.
Comcast was part of a consortium of cable companies that sold their wireless spectrum to Verizon in 2011. As part of the deal, the cable companies got the right to resell wireless service on Verizon’s network. In late 2015, Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said during an earnings call that some unnamed cable companies wanted to start reselling Verizon service per the 2011 agreement. Bloomberg later reported the interested party was Comcast.
On Tuesday, Roberts only said that Comcast wanted to launch the service next year, and that it will be led by Greg Butz who was tapped to head up Comcast Mobile in July. Details such as the monthly subscription cost or whether the new service will require a Comcast cable subscription were not announced.
The story behind the story: This would be the second time Comcast tries to get into the wireless game. Back in 2007, Comcast and other cable companies offered package deals that included Sprint wireless service under the Pivot banner. That effort ended within a year of rolling out. This time around, however, Comcast has more control over the product and is using a novel approach that may appeal to budget-conscious customers in urban areas.
Comcast isn’t the only cable provider to offer a Wi-Fi-centric wireless service. In 2015, Cablevision rolled out a service called Freewheel for subscribers and non-subscribers alike.