Comcast will deploy Samsung 5G gear to boost Xfinity Mobile capacity

Comcast is evolving its Xfinity Mobile mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) strategy by deploying Samsung’s 5G radios in its Citizens Broadband Radio Service and 600 MHz spectrum holdings. The company said it will use Samsung’s gear in dense, high-traffic areas to improve the customer experience and lower its costs.

Comcast’s decision to deploy its own 5G radios isn’t surprising. The company has always said it might supplement its MVNO network with its own equipment. Comcast uses Verizon’s nationwide network for its MVNO and by deploying its own 5G radios on its spectrum it can reduce the fees it pays to Verizon for its network usage.  

In addition to Samsung’s 5G radios, Comcast will deploy the company’s newly developed 5G CBRS Strand Small Cell, which can be mounted on existing aerial cable lines. Comcast and Samsung conducted technical trials of the Strand Small Cell and are now doing friendly trials with Comcast employees.

A Comcast spokesperson told Fierce in an email exchange that the company has been happy with the initial technical trials and is using the employee testing to “gain additional insights.” In addition, the spokesperson said that the results of the testing have been consistent with 5G performance observed in other networks using similar amounts of spectrum.

What’s particularly compelling about Samsung’s Strand Small Cell is that it was designed specifically for cable operators and can be deployed on aerial cable using existing infrastructure to reduce time and cost. Plus, this small cell comes with a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem that is DOCSIS 4.0 ready and can be used for backhaul over the cable infrastructure, which means Comcast will save money on transport costs where it deploys the small cells. However, where the company deploys the other Samsung 5G radios it will have to arrange for backhaul and power as well as lease space on towers.

Samsung said that the Strand small cell uses the company’s own second generation 5G modem system-on-a-chip and can support bandwidth of up to 80MHz across the entire CBRS spectrum. It also comes with a flexible antenna configuration that can provide 90-degree, 180-degree and 360-degree coverage.  

In a blog post, Tom Nagel, Comcast’s SVP of wireless strategy, didn’t provide specifics about where exactly the company plans to deploy Samsung’s 5G gear. However, he did emphasize that Comcast has no plans to build a full nationwide wireless network.“We plan to selectively deploy our own 5G radios in dense, high-traffic areas of the markets we serve today,” Nagel said. The company’s current spectrum holdings cover about 80% of Comcast’s homes passed and about 50% of the U.S. population, Nagel added.

In 2020 Comcast spent $458 million to purchase 830 Priority Access Licenses (PAL) in the CBRS spectrum band. Depending on the county, the spectrum depth of Comcast’s licenses are between 20 MHz to 40 MHz. In addition, in 2016 the company spent $1.7 billion on 600 MHz spectrum licenses that cover about 155 million POPs. The spectrum depth of these licenses average about 10 MHz in each partial economic area.

Update: This article was updated with the correct amount of spectrum depth for Comcast's CBRS licenses.