Charter sells wireless service to small businesses

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge said at this week’s Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference that the company’s MVNO “just launched and sold our first SMB customer within the last two weeks.”

Tom Rutledge
Charter CEO
Tom Rutledge

Charter launched its Spectrum Mobile product in July 2018, and it now counts about 500,000 subscribers. The company added 208,000 Spectrum Mobile connections during its second quarter 2019.

Spectrum Mobile is distributed by Verizon through a MVNO agreement, and is augmented by some 500,000 Charter Wi-Fi hotspots.

Rutledge said Charter mainly values having a mobile product as part of its core business, which is connectivity. “We don’t look at mobility as an end it itself,” he said. It’s an attribute of our broadband connection relationships with our customer.”

In terms of its wholesale arrangement with Verizon, he said, “We think we could be very successful with the current relationship unchanged. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t do other MVNOs if there’s an opportunity to do them.” He also said its relationship with Verizon doesn’t preclude Charter from building its own wireless network if it made economic sense.

By “economic sense” he explained that it’s correlated to MVNO costs. “The lower the cost of that, the less efficient it is to go put capital out and move traffic on your own network. But, we can do that.”

RELATED: Charter updates MVNO progress, explores dual SIM connectivity

Charter has been testing CBRS radios on its plant with dual SIM devices that allow a customer to use the wireless MVNO or alternately use Charter’s network, whichever is best from an economic standpoint. “That looks like it works,” he said. The question is, so, how fast would you roll that out? Over a long period of time we’ll do that opportunistically. But right now, the MVNO is a good relationship for us.”

Charter and CBRS

Craig Cowden, Charter’s SVP of wireless technology, participated in today’s CBRS Alliance event to launch the Initial Commercial Deployment (ICD) for the alliance’s OnGo services. “This opens the door for companies like Charter to deploy next generation wireless technologies, including 5G, rural broadband and service to the Internet of Things,” said Cowden, in a prepared statement.

RELATED: Why small wireless carriers care about all the CBRS hullabaloo

At Communacopia, Rutledge said Charter is conducting an experiment “to build out low-density broadband” in North Carolina using CBRS wireless spectrum to serve “with a line of sight terrestrial wireless product” to expand Charter’s broadband in more rural areas. 

Ironically, Charter’s interest in rural broadband and the use of CBRS spectrum may stem, in part, from its settlement with the state of New York, which sued Charter for not fulfilling its promise to bring broadband to rural areas of the state. Rutledge said Charter is building out some low-density broadband in New York, now. And he said, “We find that it’s economic. There may be an opportunity to accelerate low-density construction on the fringes of our business going forward.”