Why it matters to you
Comcast already pipes internet into millions of homes, and now it wants to take its service to the airwaves. On April 6, the media giant announced the details of a new service, Xfinity Mobile, that will compete toe-to-toe with Google Fi, US Cellular, and incumbents like AT&T and T-Mobile.
Xfinity Mobile will launch with an unlimited data, talk, and text plan starting at $65 a month for up to five lines ($45 per line for customers with Comcast’s top X1 TV packages), or $12 per GB a month a la carte. A combination of Comcast’s 16 million Wi-Fi hot spots and Verizon’s network will supply coverage — as with Google’s Fi technology, phones phone will automatically switch between Wi-Fi and cellular depending on network conditions — and Xfinity Mobile customers will get their choice of an iPhone, a high-end Samsung phone, or a “more modest” handset from LG.
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Sign-ups will be restricted to Comcast’s 25 million subscribers at launch, which the company said is to ensure a “high level” of customer service. Xfinity Mobile subscribers will be able to get in touch with reps via text and “other means,” Comcast said.
The pricing is in line with the competition — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint offer plans ranging from $50 a month for a single line to $90 a month. And that’s no mistake. “We believe we have very competitive unlimited plans,” Greg Butz, president of Comcast’s mobile business, told Reuters.
When Comcast does get the ball rolling on mobile, it’ll become the first cable mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) — in other words, the first wireline internet provider to buy capacity on other wireless carriers’ networks.
“The lines between wired and wireless networks are blurring,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told Fortune. “For Comcast […] being a wireless operator isn’t optional. All network operators are going to be in the wireless business whether they like it or not.”
More: Look out, Verizon — Comcast is launching its own mobile service in 2017
It’s a logical step for Comcast, which faces declining revenue in the wake of an ongoing cable TV exodus. In August 2016, every major cable TV company, including DirecTV, Comcast, and Character, lost subscribers. A collective 812,000 U.S. customers canceled their pay TV subscriptions, and there were 1.4 million fewer cable subscribers in the quarter overall compared to the same period a year ago.
It isn’t all doom and gloom. A forecast from analysts at SNL Kagan projects that broadband subscriptions will increase by 8 million over the next decade, heading off an expected 1.5 percent decline in traditional TV subscriptions. But Comcast’s not taking chances.
And Comcast isn’t the only company in this position. Charter Communications is also said to be launching a wireless service next year. And AT&T, which owns satellite provider DirecTV, debuted an internet TV package — DirecTV Now — earlier this year.