Charter expects to have a mobile radio access network “fully deployed across one of our larger markets . . . by the end of this year and going into next year,” said Charter Chief Financial Officer Chris Winfrey at an investor conference today. The network will use spectrum that Charter won in the 2020 CBRS band auction.
Winfrey stopped short of providing a service launch date, however. Instead, he noted that the service “will be designed as a full-scale employee trial before we go fully active to paying customers.”
Charter has the potential to cover a large part of the U.S. with its mobile service. The company was the third largest winning bidder in the CBRS auction and committed to spending $464 million on the spectrum.
“We’ve been successful in the lab, successful in field trials and everything works the way we expected,” Winfrey said. Before launching service, though, the company wants to make sure that “hand-overs” work and “then it’s ready for show time,” he noted.
Since 2018, Charter has offered a mobile service known as Spectrum Mobile that relies on a combination of Wi-Fi and a virtual mobile network operator (MVNO) agreement with Verizon. The term “hand-overs” apparently is a reference to transitioning calls or data sessions from Wi-Fi or the Verizon network to Charter’s network.
Wi-Fi and the Verizon network “will be significant carriers” of Charter mobile traffic for “the prolonged future,” Winfrey noted.
Charter will target areas for CBRS deployments where traffic and penetration levels are high, according to Winfrey.
“The more penetrated we are on mobile, the more attractive CBRS becomes because it gives us more offload opportunities,” he explained, adding that the pace of deployment “will be tied to fairly disciplined financial ROI [return on investment] for the offload strategy.”
Winfrey believes that at least half of Charter broadband customers may eventually purchase bundles that include Spectrum Mobile. He noted that at its peak, Charter’s landline voice offering was used by half of Charter broadband subscribers.
Winfrey made his comments at the J.P. Morgan Technology, Media and Communications conference. An archive of the question-and-answer session is available at this link.