Comcast: We can make 5G work

Comcast is preparing to participate in the FCC's upcoming incentive auction of 600 MHz spectrum, which could pit the broadband behemoth against wireless carriers just as 5G technologies come to market. And Comcast CFO Mike Cavanagh said the company has what it takes to make 5G work.

"5G is an exciting new platform," Cavanagh said on a quarterly earnings call with analysts this morning. "We're still in early days. Antennas are going to need to go up, and we need space and power and backhaul. The spectrum doesn't pass through trees and buildings."

Cavanagh suggested Comcast has some assets that will be crucial for the deployment of 5G: It can handle backhaul with its massive fixed-line footprint, and it has the municipal infrastructure and rights-of-way deals to create a wireless network in some key markets. Finally, it has the necessary personnel to build and maintain a wireless network.

Comcast is among the dozens of applicants expected to participate in the "forward auction" of TV broadcasters' spectrum, which is likely to begin in the next few months. The company said earlier this year that it is "taking a paddle" in the event, although it claimed to be considering only spectrum that could give it more "strategic flexibility" rather than aggressively pursuing deploying wireless services.

Those airwaves aren't likely to be available for wireless use until 2020, which is roughly when commercial 5G deployments are expected to begin in a big way. Comcast may also have to invest in high-band spectrum, airwaves above 6 GHz, that many in the wireless industry believe will be critical to any 5G offering.

Interestingly, Comcast activated its MVNO agreement with Verizon late last year, setting the stage for it to provide mobile services through the No. 1 mobile network operator in the U.S. And it is seeking several tech executives with wireless experience for key positions including a VP of business development strategy, according to recent job postings.

Comcast may indeed be planning to acquire a small amount of spectrum to complement an MVNO offering, but with a market cap approaching $150 billion it clearly has the means to walk away with a big chunk of very valuable airwaves. Either way, the company appears to have noteworthy plans for 5G.

As for its financial results, Comcast posted another solid quarter this morning, reporting its 6th consecutive month of reduced churn. It added 53,000 Xfinity TV customers and 438,000 high-speed Internet users, exceeding even the bullish expectations from analysts.

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