The gleam in Rob's eye says he wants to go ahead. "We have more fiber than anyone else," Rob Howald of Comcast claims, adding, "We and all the others in cable have deployed fiber deeply throughout our networks. That will give us a crucial advantage in 5G mmWave." Howald was very clear that no decision has been made to go forward, although he was obviously enthused about the technology. It's not news that cablecos are looking, but I was amazed at how advanced the preparations are. 

Balan Nair at Liberty Global, the largest international, a few months ago was deeply skeptical of building his own network. Now, he tells WSJ,  "We have fiber to many neighborhoods." Stu Woo points out, "The company has utility cabinets in neighborhoods already connected to power, which would allow the company -- or a mobile-carrier partner -- to quickly set up a 5G cellular site there."

A few days later, I saw Howald hold up a chart of 5G coverage simulations. Their current fiber allows mmWave to more than half the area studied and they are driving fiber deeper. I've confirmed U.S. #2, Charter, is thinking similarly. The final decision is a couple of years away, but the engineers are enthusiastic about the challenge.

Over 100M prime wireless customers are in the sights of the three companies, with further alliances possible. In Canada, both Shaw and Rogers are already working with Comcast on set tops; Shaw has limited wireless today.

Liberty has long offered wireless and quad-play in most markets. Comcast has just turned on their MVNO with Verizon nationwide. Charter is expected to add wireless next year, after they smooth out the acquisition of TIme Warner Cable. 

(added) Dave McGuire of Comcast commented,

"Just to be clear, our focus, on the broadband side, remains on rolling out DOCSIS 3.1 across our footprint, which we believe is the most effective and efficient way to deliver ultra-fast speeds to customers.

On 5G, we are testing the technology, but it is way too early to say what role it will play. I think Rob was reinforcing something you’ve heard from our leadership, which is that with more than 150,000 route miles of fiber, our network is well positioned to support a wide range of potential use cases, including 5G backhaul."

I believe I made that clear by bolding, "no decision has been made," and other comments. I have two independent verifications that Comcast is working hard on 5G, one from another cableco and one from a senior industry researcher. I believe Comcast is making sure to be ready, willing, and able to move aggressively on 5G if the business decision is made to go ahead. I infer they are "serious" and remain comfortable with the headline. (end addition with Comcast comments)

The pros and cons of cable 5G wireless:

Brian Roberts of Comcast points to a major negative. "No disrespect to wireless, but it's a tough business. ... I don't see something happening in that industry that we would envy a position that we don't have today." With weak competition from U.S. telcos, cable broadband is extremely profitable and prices continue to go up. Wireless prices are dropping. 

Giant cablecos have the bargaining power to demand excellent pricing if they buy services from the telcos. Most telcos have massive overcapacity. Few are even using all their spectrum even in cities. (Don't believe the hype of spectrum shortages. They exist but are very much the exception.) The price to buy services may be so low building just doesn't make sense.

On the other hand, no one doubts that cable could build 5G networks if the economics worked. Many were skeptical that cable had the engineers to deliver broadband back when they replaced the middleman, @Home. They did fine. Since then, folks like Tony Werner at Comcast and Balan at Liberty have built very strong tech teams. (I have a short list of people I look to for the most challenging questions but otherwise try not to bother. In cable, the list is Balan, Tony, and John Chapman of Cisco.)

Small cells in large volume look to cost only $2,000-$3,000, less than the cost of backhaul. Usually, only the incumbent telcos and cablecos have extensive fiber. As Rob notes, this is an enormous advantage. 

Cablecos have high market share. Customer acquisition often costs more than actually delivering the services. Cablecos already have the customers. "This is a business of scale," Ivan Seidenberg taught me. Cablecos have the scale. 

Billing and support costs are higher than bandwidth and capacity costs in large networks. There's a major saving when you can spread those costs over multiple services, triple and quad play. That's been particularly effective in Europe, where Bouygues was invigorated by a quadplay offering. 

Future of 5G wireless in cable

While Verizon expects to deploy widely starting in 2018. Initially, that will primarily be a fixed wireless offering. Cablecos already have a robust DOCSIS cable connection to most homes. I haven't heard anyone in cable suggest much will happen before mmWave mobile is available ~2020.

The go/no go decision is a couple of years away. It's a make or buy choice, impossible to evaluate before the actual costs are clear. 

Comcast has assembled a strong team to make sure they are ready. They are already doing the simulations and closely following the research. I expect at least Comcast to soon do some trials to gain experience. 

Cable's current strategy is to continue to drive fiber deep, which is the best way to prepare for mmWave. That's also the strategy of some of the best at telcos, such as Ibrahim Gedeon at Telus. He's studying Massive MIMO, mmWave, small cells, and but is not yet sure which will be the right choice to supplement the fiber home they are doing. Meanwhile, they are raising their spending on fiber, knowing that the deep fiber build will be crucial whichever they choose.

I see cable vs telco completely differently after Balan & Rob's comment.


Rob Howald spoke at Adtran's excellent press/analyst event. I met several senior cable people there. Adtran is quietly building strong relationships in cable. This has been quite a year for junkets. Adtran, ASSIA, Calix, Huawei, and the Summit have paid my travel expenses to events.


dave ask


The 3.3-4.2 spectrum should be shared, not exclusively used by one company, concludes an important U.S. Defense Innovation Board report. If more wireless broadband is important, sharing is of course right because shared networks can yield far more

It does work! Verizon's mmWave tests over a gigabit in the real world. 
The $669 OnePlus 7 Pro outclasses the best Apples and probably the new Galaxy 10 or Huawei P30 Pro. Optical zoom, three cameras, liquid cooling, Qualcomm 855 and more.
Korea at 400,000 5G May 15. Chinese "pre-commercial" signing customers, 60,000-120,000 base stations in 2019, million+ remarkable soon. 
5G phones Huawei Mate 20, Samsung Galaxy 10, ZTE Nubia, LG V50, and OPPO are all on sale at China Unicom. All cost US$1,000 to 1,500 before subsidy. Xiaomi promises US$600.
Natural monopoly? Vodafone & Telecom Italia to share 5G, invite all other companies to join.
Huawei predicts 5G phones for US$200 in 2021, $300 even earlier
NY Times says "5G is dangerous" is a Russian plot. Really.
Althiostar raised US$114 million for a virtual RAN system in the cloud. Rakuten, Japan's new #4, is using it and invested.
Ireland is proposing a US$3 billion subsidy for rural fibre that will be much too expensive. Politics.
Telefonica Brazil has 9M FTTH homes passed and will add 6M more within two years. Adjusted for population, that's more than the U.S. The CEO publicly urged other carriers to raise prices together.
CableLabs and Cisco have developed Low Latency XHaul (LLX) with 5-15 ms latency for 5G backhaul,  U.S. cable is soon to come in very strong in wireless. Details 
Korea Telecom won 100,000 5G customers in the first month. SK & LG added 150,000 more. KT has 37,500 cells. planning 90% of the country by yearend. 
The Chinese giants expect 60,000 to 90,000 5G cells by the end of 2019.
China Telecom's Yang Xin warns, "Real large-scale deployment of operators' edge computing may be after 2021." Customers are hard to find.
Reliance Jio registered 97.5% 4G availability across India in Open Signal testing. Best in world.

More newsfeed


Welcome On Oct 1, 2019 Verizon turned on the first $20B 5G mmWave network with extraordinary hopes. The actual early results have been dismal. Good engineers tell me that will change. Meanwhile, the hype is unreal. Time for reporting closer to the truth.

The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while reducing capex. Deutsche Telekom and Orange/France Telecom also confirm they won't raise capex.

Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 3X to 7X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Carrier Aggregation, 256 QAM, and other tools double and triple that. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year.

Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less.  I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

Believe it or not, 80% of 5G (mid-band) for several years will be slower than good 4G, which is more developed.