It's Time for Comcast to Get Off the Wireless Fence


Comcast tried to give wireless a go several years ago. It failed. It pulled out of wireless, sold its spectrum and was done. Now, wireless has expanded and changed, and competitors like AT&T's U-verse and DirecTV are using wireless to deliver television programming.

I'll bet Comcast now wishes it never sold off its wireless spectrum. So, what can we expect from the company going forward in the wireless space? If it jumps in again, will it be successful this time around?

Comcast recently acknowledged it was weighing its options in wireless. If so, then it has been doing so for quite a long time. It's been several years since it made its first foray. During the last year, it has intensified its focus. I would imagine that if Comcast were going to re-enter wireless, it would have done so by now.

However, Comcast needs to re-enter wireless. Competition from AT&T's U-verse and DirecTV is changing the television industry. Offerings like IPTV, satellite TV, and mobile TV or wireless TV are changing the way customers watch television. No longer are they restricted to watching from their homes. Now they can watch on their smartphones or tablets anywhere, at any time of day.

This is transforming the way users think of television -- and it's the future. This is what every competitor will have to strive for in order to remain in the game. Comcast currently lets users download shows and watch them away from home. However, watching live TV is still new in the wireless world, and understanding how to integrate it is the challenge.

Comcast saw the writing on the wall when AT&T acquired DirecTV and started offering mobile TV. Several quarters ago, Comcast started talking with Verizon Wireless about its next step. It is going to Verizon because that's the company that acquired its spectrum several years ago, and part of the deal was Comcast would be able to work with Verizon on any future wireless opportunities.

Wireless is changing the cable television world very rapidly. In fact, wireless is changing every industry very rapidly. Wireless carriers like AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless and Sprint are helping other industries to transform. Look at the automotive industry -- or healthcare, retail, household appliances or sales. Transformations are taking place in industry after industry.

Comcast is a leader in cable television. It is a leader in WiFi hot spots within its region. It owns NBC properties. It has all it needs to be a really powerful player in wireless TV. However, it flopped when it first offered wireless a few short years ago. Now it is hiring senior executives to help bridge the old and the new -- yesterday and tomorrow.

Comcast is taking the right steps. It has the right assets in place. Now it just has to make wireless TV a reality. Users are warming to the idea of mobile TV. They like the idea of having the freedom to watch television wherever they are.

Comcast is facing both a big opportunity and a big challenge. Even though it has all the pieces, that doesn't mean it will be successful. Comcast demonstrated a few years ago that it didn't understand the wireless industry.

The question is, does it now? This is an area it must understand in order to succeed. If it doesn't, then even with all its assets, Comcast and the cable television industry will simply wither away as mobile TV takes over.

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected]

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