Comcast CEO talks competition, asserts company is ‘tech-driven’

  • Comcast CEO Brian Roberts spoke this week about broadband competition

  • He argued Comcast is “not a cable company” but “technology driven"

  • Comcast’s NOW prepaid offering is helping the company better compete against FWA

Can cable get its groove back? It’s a common question as operators wade their way through a sea of fiber and fixed wireless access (FWA) competition.

At this week’s MoffettNathanson investor conference, Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts talked about where the company stands in the broadband space and how it sees itself. 

“No question,” he said, “we’re not a cable company.”

Roberts described Comcast as “more of a consumer innovation and technology driven company” and referred to the Comcast Converge event from earlier this year. Comcast execs at the time emphasized how everything the company does – broadband, mobile, streaming, etc. – relies on the performance of its network infrastructure.

“We want to be relevant in the technology road map in your home and in your business,” Roberts said.

“And so what will AI do? Well, one thing it's going to do is create a lot more bits of things that we're going to consume, we're going to choose and search and navigate, assist, manage," he continued. "And all of those things need connectivity and they need the best connectivity.”

Elephant in the room

Analyst Craig Moffett asked Roberts to delve into the elephant in the room – broadband. Growth in that ailing segment didn’t get any better in the first quarter, when Comcast lost 65,000 broadband subscribers.

Can Comcast eventually return to subscriber growth? Part of that, according to Roberts, depends on how the company is “choosing to react” to competitors like fixed wireless.

“Three companies are all simultaneously within a short period of time are all offering a home connectivity product [that’s] by their own admission a lower speed, more easily congested network,” he said.

Roberts didn’t name any names, but so far, the FWA market has been dominated by T-Mobile and Verizon, with AT&T also getting into the space with its Internet Air product.

“So how did we respond?” He said. “We chose to accentuate the difference.”

Comcast is doing that via advertising, where it boasts the value of Xfinity when streaming on multiple devices, for example. But it also comes down to biding time until growth returns – something Charter’s CEO talked about as well in relation to the company’s broadband base.

“In our experience over satellite, telephone, Google Fiber, RCN, we’ve had many different competitors over the years. How do you accept that new competitive reality?” said Roberts. “Wait your time properly and then start growing again.”

He also mentioned Comcast’s recently launched NOW offering – a suite of prepaid products for wireless, fixed broadband, Wi-Fi and streaming TV – and how Comcast is using NOW to more effectively compete in the lower-end of the broadband market.

Roberts said he thinks the NOW products are “really simple [to onboard] and a better value than some of the fixed wireless offerings…and a roadmap to hopefully one day upgrade you to the full Xfinity broadband experience.”

All about the bits

Lastly, he pointed to “bits per home” (i.e; how much data consumers are using) as another statistic that’s important to examine rather than just subscriber count. In Q1, Roberts said Comcast’s bits per home were “north of 10% growth.”

“We have over 20 devices. Our customers are using way more capacity, 700 megabits a month, that is 20x, 30x what they're using with a cell phone,” he concluded. “So are bits per home growing? What is driving that? And is that sustainable, going to accelerate or decelerate in the years ahead?”

That's a great quesiton for FWA providers. Stay tuned!