On Thursday, cable giant Comcast Corp. CMCSA announced its long-awaited wireless phone service, Xfinity Mobile, that promises to shake up the telecom industry by offering lower prices than other legacy carriers. While the mobile plan will mainly be powered by its 16 million Wi-Fi hotspots, it will also leverage Verizon’s VZ wireless network.
Comcast is bundling the service with its other Xfinity offerings, but customers must have, at a minimum, Xfinity Internet to sign up for the cable company’s new mobile plan.
At first glance, though, Xfinity Mobile sounds pretty enticing, and at no extra cost, customers can automatically get up to five phone lines if they choose to add the new plan to their Xfinity Internet service. There are no line-access fees, and Xfinity Mobile includes talk and text with the first 100 megabytes of shared 4G LTE data included.
Pricing breaks down as follows:
- X1 internet and cable package subscribers can get an “unlimited” plan for $45 a month per line.
- Anyone who subscribes to a Comcast internet service below X1 can get an “unlimited” plan for $65 a month per line.
- You can also pay per gigabyte, in which each GB costs $12. This is good for someone who thinks they’ll only use a small amount of data per month.
Xfinity Mobile plans aren’t really unlimited. Like we all are accustomed to, unlimited today really means “unlimited,” or unlimited to a certain extent. Comcast says it will reduce speeds after you use more than 20GB of mobile data. But, customers will get access to HD video streaming on all Comcast plans, something that Verizon, AT&T T, Sprint S, and T-Mobile TMUS only offer on their highest-tier wireless mobile plans.
As for phones, Xfinity Mobile will offer the Apple AAPL iPhone—including the 7, 7 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, and SE—Samsung smartphones, like the Galaxy S8 and S8+, and Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, as well as LG’s X Power phone. You can either choose to buy the devices upfront or choose a 24-month payment plan, but you cannot bring your own device to the service to start, at least not now; Comcast may add that option in the future.
Xfinity Mobile is set to launch by mid-2017, but it’s still in the testing phase. So far, Comcast has run limited employee trials of the mobile plan, and today, those tests will expand to the company’s entire employee base. Xfinity Mobile is similar to Google’s GOOGL Project Fi, which found success before with the concept of automatically switching between Wi-Fi and network connectivity.
Comcast, Mobile Leader?
The telecom industry has been evolving over the past few years due to changing consumer preferences, and key players have responded in interesting ways. Most notably, AT&T announced its eyebrow-raising $85 billion deal to buy media company Time Warner TWX last year, in addition to its various moves to diversify into the entertainment industry, like its purchase of DirecTV. Verizon has doubled down on digital media as well, with plans to acquire Yahoo’s YHOO core business.
But where does this leave Comcast? Xfinity Mobile is not Comcast’s first venture in the wireless market. The cable provider notably joined together with Sprint, Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks on a mobile platform called Pivot back in 2005, but that failed after two years without gaining much traction.
Xfinity Mobile will surely stir up this ultra-competitive industry, and it’s not that difficult to imagine Comcast as a telecom leader someday. Like AT&T and Verizon, the cable company needed a way to diversify its central business, especially as more and more customers cut the cord and turn to video streaming platforms like Netflix NFLX. Will a wireless phone service be the answer? We’ll have to wait and see.
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