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5 February 2016

Comcast in strong position, but still quiet about mobile plans

Comcast numbers revealed almost nothing new about the company’s technology direction, but confirmed that nothing much is really hurting the US cable leader right now – and that includes churn and cord cutting. US consumers are definitely cord cutting, but for the most part Comcast has executed well in it not letting those customers come out of its pocket.

There are two main headlines about this quarter’s results – the first net video adds in eight years; and involvement in the forthcoming 600 MHz wireless auctions. These are related, because both developments push Comcast closer to a quad play. Not that the firm is giving much away – it said that it would enter the auctions to see whether it could secure an asset of value, but very little else.

The discussions at the results conference centered on whether Comcast would use WiFi on its own, WiFi with an MVNO deal for cellular, or WiFi with its own spectrum, to introduce new services – and when any of that might come. The management team admitted to having invested more in WiFi, now up to 13.3m hotspots, and in the ability to hand off calls from WiFi, and this has added yet more growth at enterprise level, mostly in smaller businesses.

Comcast did reveal an interesting number, that around 74% of its residential high speed data customers now have wireless gateways supplied by the cableco itself. That means that, if it upgraded all of them, it could have 17.26m homespots (WiFi home gateways with a second SSID left open for public use). According to Wireless Watch’s sister service, Faultline, Comcast should get to around 97% of that number a year or two from now, since only about 3% of customers opt out of the open SSID.

The importance of the wireless decision is highlighted by another number – that Comcast TV Everywhere is now used at 34% of homes and mobile viewing is up 20% on last year. But despite four or five analysts asking the direct question on the conference call, no Comcast executive gave a hint about the timing or shape of any new WiFi-first service or entry into cellular.

Total annual revenues came to just under $75bn with $19.2bn for the quarter, up 8.3% and 8.5% respectively year-on-year, but net income was less impressive – up to $2bn in the quarter, but down a fraction to $8.4bn for the year.