Charter sees path to nearly 15M mobile subs

Charter Communications CFO Christopher Winfrey charted a long subscriber growth trajectory for the operator’s wireless MVNO product, explaining it believes the service will perform as good or better than its legacy voice offering.

During a J.P. Morgan investor conference, Winfrey said at its height “you could almost count as clockwork that the voice subscribers would be about half of broadband, and if it hadn’t been for mobile substitution that percentage, those numbers were continuing to increase. And so I think our opportunity is at least that.”

Charter ended Q1 2021 with 29.2 million internet subscribers, 10.4 million voice lines and nearly 2.7 million mobile lines.

He added the company is recycling for mobile much of the same playbook it used to become one of the largest players in the voice market. “The way we did it is because we weren’t an incumbent, we had the ability to save customers money and we had the ability to go bundle it. As a result, we took down phone pricing dramatically across the entire industry, across the entire U.S.” over the course of two decades, he said.

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Charter CEO Tom Rutledge recently revealed the operator is planning to build out mobile infrastructure to deploy 3.5 GHz (CBRS) spectrum in its first market by the end of 2021, as part of a move aimed at helping it offload MVNO traffic to its own network.

Winfrey said this will initially be available to Charter employees to ensure everything is working smoothly before it is launched commercially. After that, he said, it will continue its buildout market-by-market, with areas chosen based on traffic volumes and Charter's mobile penetration rate there.

“In a weird way, the more penetrated we are on mobile the more attractive the CBRS deployment becomes because it gives us more offload opportunity,” he explained.

In terms of infrastructure for the 3.5 GHz rollout, the CFO said Charter will use a combination of strand mounts, deployments inside businesses and even residential routers.

“While that’s not something we’re deploying in routers today, you can think about residential routers also having 2.4, 5 GHz Wi-Fi, having the new 6 GHz Wi-Fi and having CBRS in those as well and targeting certain residences that have traffic characteristics around them,” he said. “So we’re going to be opportunistic around how we deploy these radios and it’ll just be tied to a financial return.”