Editor’s Corner—A look at how Comcast is taking its Xfinity Mobile MVNO to market

There’s a new wireless brand in town, and it’s not messing around.

Comcast, the nation’s largest internet provider, is in the midst of staking out a new, major position in the wireless market with its Xfinity Mobile brand, an MVNO that runs on Verizon’s LTE network. Comcast is now selling Xfinity Mobile across its entire cable footprint (roughly one-third of the country) in a direct challenge to AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and the rest of the nation’s top wireless brands.

According to TV measurement company iSpot, Comcast has spent close to $9 million marketing Xfinity Mobile specifically on national TV since the brand launched in May, running nine ads 6,448 times. The firm said Comcast’s ads have generated 1.7 billion TV ad impressions. To put that into perspective, Comcast spent a total of $1.814 billion on all types of advertising in 2016, down from $1.876 billion in 2015, according to Kantar Media estimates.

Comcast’s overall ad spending puts it into the same league as Verizon (which spent $2.74 billion on advertising in 2016) and AT&T (which spent $1.62 billion on advertising in 2016, according to Kantar Media estimates). So it’s clear that Xfinity Mobile may well benefit from the same kind of marketing muscle that wireless giants like AT&T employ.

But, beyond the numbers, how is Comcast actually taking Xfinity Mobile to market? What is the company’s strategy?

Inside Xfinity Mobile

“We’re really not competing in challenging those Big 4,” Randall Hounsell, VP of product management for Xfinity Mobile, told me. He said Comcast doesn’t see Xfinity Mobile as a direct challenge to the nation’s four nationwide wireless network operators: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. “I don’t think you’ll see us compete as a standalone wireless company.”

“Our goals are different,” he added.

Rather than building momentum behind Xfinity Mobile specifically, Hounsell said that Comcast is working to position the brand as one part of a bigger whole, a brand that offers everything from internet services to home automation products. “Mobile is another reason to consider Comcast,” he explained.

“There’s an initial set of marketing [for Xfinity Mobile] to make customers aware that we actually have a mobile product,” Hounsell explained. “As we get further along I think you’ll see that marketing increasingly being integrated marketing with our other products, where we’re not just talking about one product, we’re talking about more than one product.”

“This is incremental to what we already do, in terms of how much we are spending on marketing,” he added of Xfinity Mobile. “This isn’t a separate, new, big investment.”

Based on my own observations here in Denver, Comcast’s initial Xfinity Mobile advertising stretches across a wide range of mediums—from billboards to radio ads to inserts into monthly bills – and pushes a relatively simple message: “Introducing Xfinity Mobile,” reads one bill insert. “Get up to five lines of unlimited, nationwide talk and text included with Xfinity Internet at no extra cost, so all you pay for is data.”

A big part of Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile push involves the company’s newly revamped retail stores. “All of our stores … now have Xfinity Mobile built into them. All the reps in those stores can sell mobile,” Hounsell said, adding that Comcast’s call center workers can also sell the company’s mobile product. “It’s getting kind of woven into the core of what we do.”

Samantha Kane, an Xfinity retail store manager in Denver, said that the company’s new mobile products are generating a significant amount of interest from shoppers. Kane took me on a tour of one of Comcast’s stores, where the company positioned roughly a dozen functional Xfinity Mobile phones right at the front of the store in a shiny, bright-white display. The store also offered wireless headphones and music speakers, alongside cases and other phone accessories. Past the Xfinity Mobile display, in the back of the store, were kiosks highlighting Comcast’s other offerings including TV and home automation services.

In an era when commerce increasingly is moving online, Comcast appears to be putting a major emphasis on its physical footprint. Indeed, early last month the company hired a band, the Wind & the Wave and the Dreamers, to perform at one of its retail outlets as part of its Xfinity Mobile promotions. The company is planning similar marketing events in the future, in an effort to draw both customers and noncustomers to its stores.

Wireless as an add-on

As I wrote earlier this year, I think Xfinity Mobile in part is an effort by Comcast to ensure that it can retain its existing customers by giving them a mobile option – thus preventing them from seeking new telecommunications services elsewhere. But based on how the company is marketing Xfinity Mobile, I think it’s also clear that Comcast is hoping a mobile offering will draw in new customers as well, ones that don’t already subscribe to Xfinity This or Xfinity That.

“I think mobile is an opportunity to expand consideration for other products. … I think it gives us an opportunity to talk about everything that we do. So we're really encouraged about our early-stage retail launches where we see that happening. So real pleased with their early results,” Comcast’s David Watson said of Xfinity Mobile during the company’s quarterly conference call with investors, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the event.

Similar to how Apple has created an ecosystem of services around its devices, with each device standing as an entrance point into that ecosystem for new customers, Comcast too is positioning Xfinity Mobile as a new entrance vector for customers to enter its Xfinity ecosystem. (Speaking of which, as a FierceWireless reader, have you had a chance to check out FierceCable or FierceTelecom?)

Perhaps the closest parallel to Comcast’s move into mobile is AT&T’s move into content and streaming video. AT&T’s DirecTV Now service is geared toward both pleasing existing customers and enticing new ones – customers that AT&T can then market additional services to.

"As AT&T and Verizon get into 5G fixed, they will invariably be going outside of their native fixed footprint. And they’ll bundle internet, video (DirecTV Now and whatever the Verizon flavor is) and wireless. Having a triple play will minimize the eventual difference as every offer will have gigabit throughput," noted analyst William Ho of 556 Ventures.

Xfinity Mobile isn’t necessarily the biggest threat to the existing “big 4” wireless brands. MVNOs like Google’s Project Fi and America Movil’s Straight Talk also continue to stand as noteworthy alternatives to Verizon, T-Mobile and the rest of the market’s big players. However, as highlighted by Comcast’s go-to-market strategy with Xfinity Mobile, it’s clear that wireless is increasingly being positioned as an add-on to other services, be it streaming video or home automation, rather than a stand-alone offering. What that means for wireless pure-plays like T-Mobile, or service providers like Dish Network that do not offer wireless, remains to be seen. – Mike | @mikeddano