Comcast 'Carefully Evaluating Our Options' for Mobile

‘We are understanding the market,’ says MSO exec Marcien Jenckes
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Comcast continues to weigh its wireless options even as it sees plenty of growth runway ahead for its wireline broadband business.

“At the moment, what we are doing is very carefully evaluating our options. We are understanding the market,” Marcien Jenckes, Comcast’s EVP of consumer services, said Tuesday at Nomura’s 2016 Media, Telecom & Internet Conference.

Comcast has had to sidestep questions about its plans for the broadcast incentive auctions for months, but recently tapped Greg Butz to head up a new mobile unit, a move that followed Comcast’s decision to invoke its Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) rights with Verizon. Comcast also has an MVNO deal with Sprint. 

Comcast still hasn’t defined the mobile path it will eventually take, Jenckes stressed that it’s not necessary for the operator to become a principal player in wireless for content distribution, since Comcast already delivers its content across multiple mobile carriers.

But if Comcast were to pull the trigger on a grander mobile service strategy it would be to seek opportunities to fuel additional growth, “whether that’s as an extension of our existing wireline business, or whether it’s because we see an opportunity to be a bit of a disruptor on that front,” he said.

“If we are able to chart the right path, figure out the right way of doing it, I think you'll see us do some interesting things, but we are still in the process of evaluating that,” Jenckes said, noting earlier that Comcast’s WiFi footprint now spans 15 million hotspots (via quasi-public deployments and homespots in customer routers).

On the wireline broadband front, “there’s still a long runway there,” Jenckes said, noting that there are about 6 million DSL subscribers in Comcast’s footprint. “[There is] certainly no lack of homes for us to continue to go after.”

Comcast added 220,000 high-speed Internet subs in Q2, extending that total to 23.98 million. The cable industry at large took the lion’s share of subscriber net adds in Q2.

Jenckes was also asked to weigh in on Google Fiber, which has been looking to accelerate its service rollout capabilities by exploring high-speed wireless technologies, plugging into existing fiber infrastructure, and riding services on top of municipal-owned networks.

“I think in general their growth has been slower than I think what a lot of people originally anticipated and I attribute that to we are very good competitors,” Jenckes said, adding that “we don’t take them [Google Fiber] lightly.”

Jenckes also discussed the role X1 has had in improving the MSO’s pay TV results, noting that homes on that cloud-based platform have 20% lower voluntary churn than other homes.

And he said X1 is not about a new box, but a new platform that is being used to target other market segments and underpin products that don’t rely on set-top boxes, including Xfinity On Campus and a new Stream service that’s being tested in a couple of markets.

“When we first rolled out X1, a lot of times people thought about it as a set-top box…It's not that at all,” he said. “In fact, it's a cloud-based platform that delivers experiences through a set-top box, but also delivers experiences to any Internet-connected device, whether it's in your home or out of your home.”

That said, Comcast has been rolling out about 40,000 X1 boxes per day, and aims to have about half its video sub base on the platform by year-end.  

Comcast is also licensing X1 to other MVPDs, with Cox Communications and Canada's Shaw Communications being the first to jump aboard.

The licensing angle “gives us additional scale in development,” Jenckes said. “It also gives us an option to extend different business capabilities” to other MVPDs,  he added, citing examples such as advanced advertising.

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