Cable Operators

Roberts: Voice Isn’t 'Critical’

5/26/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts downplayed the significance of a pure wireless phone play for the nation’s largest cable operator, telling an audience of financial analysts last week that unique wireless services and customer demand will drive the development of the product.

Last year, Comcast joined with four other companies — wireless provider Sprint Nextel Corp. and cable MSOs Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications Inc. and Advance/Newhouse Communications — to develop a wireless product for cable. While the first products aren’t expected to be released until the end of the year, possible applications include integrated voice mail and the ability to program a home digital video recorder from a cell phone.

The consortium has always played down the significance of a plain wireless telephone service and Roberts continued that streak, telling the audience that wireless voice at this juncture is “not critical.”

Instead, other products need to be developed to bring customers into the fold. About 100 people from all of the companies in the consortium are devoted to that.

“There are some great ideas, how big they are and whether consumers want them, that’s what we are in the business of innovating,” Roberts said. “Sprint wants it — they don’t have a wireline relationship, a television relationship — we don’t have voice wireless today. If you get your cell phone from your work, pretty much half the room would say it’s not why I buy my home television or my home Internet.”

Roberts also told the audience not to read too much into the joint venture’s recent moves to participate in federal wireless-spectrum auctions, now scheduled to begin in August.

The filing was mainly an opportunity to keep the door to owning more spectrum open, Roberts said.

“They’re going to auction off the spectrum; why wouldn’t we look?” Roberts said.

September