Comcast has asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to conduct its own tests in the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service band. The request comes as Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile service is gaining subscribers and as the FCC is preparing to decide how the 3.5 GHz spectrum will be allocated.
The cable giant’s filing, spotted this week by Fierce Wireless, says Comcast wants to use commercial handsets and pre-commercial equipment to test coverage, throughput and mobility of equipment operating in the CBRS band in a section of Philadelphia. The request follows a filing made last year by Nokia in which the radio maker asked for permission to test CBRS equipment with a Philadelphia customer widely thought to be Comcast.
Although Comcast’s fledgling wireless business had less than 400,000 subscribers at year-end, the company says it’s pleased with the results so far, and told investors during its earnings call that it wants to grow the business.
“We’re really pleased with the early stage results,” said Comcast SVP Dave Watson. “We like our game plan, we like the fact that it’s connected to our existing business lines and it’s a really simple product approach that can scale. … We’re expanding distribution to our existing retail locations and we’re going to begin to package it with our other lines of business including broadband … so I think we’re well positioned going into 2018 as we scale mobile.”
Watson’s comments stand in contrast to remarks made by Comcast on the previous quarter’s earnings call, when the company described wireless as a “tough business” and said its management team did not feel compelled to get into the business by acquiring a carrier.
CBRS spectrum allocation
The FCC has not yet finalized its plans for how it will allocate the CBRS spectrum. The nationwide wireless carriers want the agency to auction 10-year licenses covering partial economic areas. Those licenses might be out of reach for some smaller service providers, but not for nationwide cable operators like Comcast.
Smaller providers want licenses covering smaller census tracts, and they want shorter time periods for the licenses so that they will sell at lower price points. Companies that want to deploy private LTE networks are also expected to advocate for licenses covering smaller census tracts. GE has been actively testing LTE in the 3.5 GHz bands and other corporations are expected to follow suit.
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