Comcast CEO likens fixed wireless to DSL: "It's lower speeds"

Verizon’s CEO has touted fixed wireless access (FWA) as the “next generation of broadband,” but Comcast CEO Brian Roberts made it very clear he has a different view. Speaking during an investor conference, Roberts branded FWA an “inferior product” and likened it to DSL technology which is now widely regarded as obsolete.

“It’s lower speeds. We’ve seen that with DSL in the past and we’ve been able to do well against that,” he said. “We don’t take it for granted but we’ve seen lower price, slower speed offerings before and in the long run I don’t know how viable the technology holds up.”

Roberts added that time will tell whether FWA merits all the buzz it’s currently receiving but said for now “we don’t feel much impact from that.” The CEO noted more than half (55%) of Comcast customers are now on plans offering speeds of 300 Mbps or higher, which is faster than the average speed offered by T-Mobile’s FWA service and on par with Verizon’s average FWA speed. The former offers average download speeds of between 35-115 Mbps, while the latter provides typical download speeds of 300 Mbps.

Comcast isn’t the only operator to have its doubts about FWA as a competitive threat. Cogeco’s CEO argued in January that those using excess capacity to offer FWA today will eventually have to claw back that spectrum to ensure their mobile subscribers are adequately served. Executives from Charter Communications, meanwhile, raised questions about the ability of wireless networks to handle growing data demand from home internet customers.

Analysts from MoffetNathanson conceded “there are still a great many questions about FWA,” but pointed out the short-term impact the technology is having on the broadband market is significant regardless of what cable executives have said. New Street Research came to a similar conclusion in a research note published last month.

“FWA has gone from low-level background noise to suddenly a major force,” MoffettNathanson’s team wrote in a note to investors. “Fixed wireless captured an estimated 38% share of industry net additions (flow share) in the quarter. That left cable’s flow share at just 66%, a number that, coincidentally, is almost precisely the same as cable’s share of installed U.S. broadband households. In other words, cable likely neither gained nor lost share during the quarter, and instead merely treaded water.”

“Cable continues to take share from the TelCos, but fixed wireless, as a new entrant, is now taking share from all players,” they concluded.