Comcast Might Sell Phones as Part of Wireless Offering, CEO Says

Nation's Biggest Cable Company Evaluating Whether to Enter Maturing Cellular Business

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Brian L. Roberts, chairman & CEO of Comcast Corporation.
Brian L. Roberts, chairman & CEO of Comcast Corporation. Credit: Courtesy Comcast

Comcast Corp. may consider selling smartphones as part of a wireless service that would compete with major U.S. carriers, Chief Executive Officer Brian Roberts said.

"We've experimented with that before," Mr. Roberts said at the Business Insider Ignition conference Tuesday. "Hasn't been a huge success in the past."

The nation's biggest cable company is evaluating whether to enter the maturing cellular business. Asked if Comcast could sell phones as part of a wireless offering, Mr. Roberts said, "We might."

The company activated a deal with Verizon Communications in October to sell wireless service on Verizon's network. Mr. Roberts said Tuesday that Comcast is exploring a similar relationship with Sprint Corp. "and others." The cable giant, in deciding to invoke the agreement with Verizon, is seeking new sources of revenue as consumers ditch traditional TV packages and competitors like AT&T and Charter Communications get bigger through acquisitions. Comcast would try to be the first successful cable mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO -- a concept pioneered by Virgin Mobile UK in 1999 in which a company buys capacity on other carriers' networks and resells services under its own brand.

Comcast would offer a hybrid cellular and Wi-Fi service, using Verizon's network and the cable company's millions of Wi- Fi hotspots. The entry of Philadelphia-based Comcast in the market would come at a time when Verizon and AT&T, the top two U.S. carriers, are already under pressure from smaller rivals like T-Mobile U.S., which is winning customers by cutting prices and doubling data allotments.

"We have been looking at our relationship with Verizon, and Sprint and others where we have the right to wholesale the network and marry it with our Wi-Fi," Mr. Roberts said. "We're going to experiment in that area."

The cable company also is looking for enhanced features, Roberts said. "We're looking for value add and we're looking for a reason that that makes sense."

-- Bloomberg News

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