September 29, 2016
It looks like the wireless industry will be experiencing some major change next year: Comcast is planning to join the fray and introduce its own wireless service in 2017.
Last week, Comcast confirmed plans to launch an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) service by mid-2017 with an emphasis on using Verizon Wireless’s expansive nationwide network (based on a 2012 MVNO agreement between Comcast and Verizon). In other words, the mobile service will operate as a blend of cellular and WiFi connections.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s reminiscent of when Google entered the wireless industry in 2015 with Project Fi.
With more than 14 million Xfinity WiFi hotspots across the U.S.*, it’s a strong foundation for a promising wireless service.
Thus far, experts agree that Comcast’s mobile service will cause a stir in the U.S. wireless environment—even without pricing or further rollout details available yet.
Because seamless transitioning to the best available connection has traditionally been one of the biggest obstacles for WiFi, this announcement seems to indicate that WiFi capabilities are rapidly expanding.
Essentially, this new service is a direct response to the partnership between AT&T and DirecTV: the wireless giant and the television provider made a deal in 2014, with DirecTV gaining access to AT&T’s 73 million wireless subscribers while AT&T earned valuable relationships with programmers and content partners (for more details, see A Breakdown of Big Telecom Mergers).
Google Fi also uses this method, providing wireless phone and data services through the WiFi and cellular networks of Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Three.
Therefore, another successful wireless service in Comcast’s offering could pressure these existing services to offer more competitive services and improve their connectivity. In addition, more established wireless providers could feel the push to continue improving their network performance (currently, AT&T Covers the Most Customers with 4G LTE),
Just as AT&T/DirecTV customers get access to an unlimited AT&T mobile data plan that’s unavailable to other customers, Comcast’s current user base of 28 million cable customers will be eligible for a similar multi-package bundle.
This service could also mean lower prices, more innovation in new technology (e.g. with increasingly-popular tablets and wearable devices), and overall better deals for users.
Not to mention the obvious fact that overall wireless service will also likely improve for users: if Comcast’s mobile users lack any available WiFi connections nearby, their devices will rely on Verizon’s network. Paired with improving carrier network performance, the end result could be a huge win for users everywhere.
Of course, many questions still remain about Comcast’s new wireless service before 2017.
Will roaming between cellular and WiFi be automatic and seamless? Which devices will be included in this service (when Google’s Project Fi first launched, only the Nexus 6 was eligible)? Will Comcast further bolster its network with other cable companies to further expand its WiFi network? Some experts speculate that Comcast may be looking to build its own network, possibly with the end goal of one day migrating away from Verizon.†
For now, all we can do is wait and anticipate as more developments become available.