Comcast sees $157M wireless profits in 2021, downplays fiber competition

Comcast reported today that in 2021 it added 1.2 million wireless lines for its mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service. Of that, 312,000 of those lines were connected during its fourth quarter 2021. Comcast Chief Financial Officer Michael Cavanagh called the quarterly adds “the best result since launching this business in 2017, bringing total mobile lines to 4 million.”

He said Comcast has made strides to fully integrate wireless into its core cable operations, achieving standalone profitability of $157 million during the year. Moving forward, the company won’t be disclosing its wireless profitability numbers.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said, “In wireless, our unique and recently-enhanced relationship with Verizon enabled us to bring a more competitive offering for our wireless customers that also improve the economics for us resulting in our largest annual growth in wireless lines yet, while reaching profitability on a standalone basis for the first time since launch.”

Comcast’s MVNO service rides on Verizon’s network, and Comcast is able to offer 5G services through that shared network.

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From the beginning of Comcast’s foray into wireless Roberts has touted it as a way to keep valuable broadband customers from churning. Today he reiterated that strategy and added, “every single broadband home should have at least a couple of lines.”

As Comcast’s addressable market for broadband expands that will, in turn, provide more opportunities to sell Xfinity Mobile.

Comcast Cable CEO David Watson, said, “Our mobile is key for us. In and of itself it’s a great growth opportunity, but it's also very important to broadband. We've talked a lot about broadband and churn benefits that continue. But we want to bring mobile value to every segment in every offer. We're going to take every single sales channel, simplify the go-to-market approach, with mobile included for every segment.”

He indicated that Comcast wants to offer mobile to low-income customers as well as premium customers. During 2021, it began offering its Xfinity Wireless to small businesses.

RELATED: Comcast starts selling wireless plans to small businesses

The analysts at New Street Research led by Jonathan Chaplin said, “Comments around improving momentum in sales channels suggest to us that gross adds will be up again in 2022.”

Wi-fi 6E device

In other wireless news, Comcast mentioned that it recently launched its first Wi-Fi 6E gateway, with the capability of delivering multi-gigabit speed. “Our goal is to continue to innovate on top of this and further widen the gap between the in-home experience that we offer versus any of the competition,” said Roberts.

The new xFi Advanced Gateway incorporates Wi-Fi 6E and will boost capacity in the home with three Wi-Fi bands – 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and the new 6 GHz band.

Finally, CFO Cavanagh touched briefly on all the competition that will be coming cable’s way from fiber rollouts and fixed wireless access (FWA) providers. He said to date there “really hasn’t been a notable shift in the competitive environment.”

RELATED: Comcast CEO says it plans to get more aggressive on broadband expansion this year

“Our game plan is to anticipate where and how competition happens,” said Cavanagh. “We have a constantly evolving playbook. The key point is we're growing penetration where we compete against both fiber and non-fiber. So, we take it seriously. We look at each one of the areas, all the varieties of overbuild fiber and fixed wireless and our goal and the game plan is to focus on our ubiquitous network advantage that we have, not looking at our competitors so often at a very local level.”


The New Street analysts pointed out that Comcast execs didn’t say anything about their CBRS spectrum in terms of their wireless strategy and capex spending.

“We accept that they won’t do this in 2022, but we think it’s a mistake,” wrote New Street. “Deployed spectrum has strong, long-term strategic benefits. Developing expertise in wireless networking will take years (just look how long it took the cable companies to perfect a wireless operating model using someone else’s network)… we think Comcast should be making hard investments in wireless infrastructure now.”

Of note, Comcast did recently announce a new private wireless service. And it will showcase this new offering by lighting up a private wireless network at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. It will use its own CBRS spectrum at the stadium.