Comcast is officially getting into the mobile carrier business with its new Xfinity Mobile calling plans and services, which will be provided using Verizon’s nationwide 4G LTE cellular network.
More than six months after Comcast detailed its mobile phone plans in September 2016, the company announced on April 6 that it will offer calling plans starting at $45 a month with unlimited data for customers of the company’s best X1 cable packages, or for $65 a month with unlimited data for Comcast customers who only subscribe to its cable internet services.
Customers who don’t want the unlimited data option would pay $12 per GB of data they use each month, with no per-line access fees. Existing Xfinity internet customers who sign up for the new service will receive up to five phone lines with unlimited talk and text per account, while purchasing shared data each month at $12 per GB. Customers will also be able to switch back and forth between unlimited service and buying extra data as needed each month to control their costs, according to Comcast.
Comcast is only offering its Xfinity Mobile services to new and existing Comcast cable and internet customers. While the mobile plans for customers will operate over Verizon’s 4G network, users will also be served by Comcast’s network of 16 million nationwide WiFi hotspots to place calls, send text messages, and use the internet and apps.
“We’re doing mobile differently by bringing our customers the best networks and a product designed to save them money in an increasingly data-driven world,” Greg Butz, president of Comcast Mobile, said in a statement. “Mobility is more important than ever to consumers, so we’ve designed Xfinity Mobile the way mobile should be—a simple solution for internet and entertainment in and out of the home.”
Xfinity internet customers will be signed into their other Xfinity apps when using the Xfinity Mobile services, according to the company, making their user experience seamless. Users will have access to 24/7 tech support via text messaging and will be able to pay their bills with autopay.
Customers will be able to use the most popular smartphones with the new services, including Apple iPhones and handsets from Samsung and LG.
Xfinity Mobile services will be offered first in Comcast markets including Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston, with additional rollouts in the future. Under the unlimited plans, data speeds will be reduced when users consume more than 20GB of data in a month.
Comcast did not respond to several email inquiries from eWEEK seeking additional comments about the new services.
Several IT analysts had varying opinions about the Xfinity Mobile offering.
“The value of this service to Comcast for now looks to be its stickiness; that is, an incentive for current customers to stay with Comcast for their video and internet rather than migrate to new competitors in that space such as AT&T or, if you’re talking about over the top video, T-Mobile,”
Bill Menezes, a mobile analyst with Gartner, told eWEEK.
Another strength in the new offering is its “pay by the gig” options, he added. “This could have a lot of appeal to families or SMB users who already subscribe to Comcast and don’t typically run up big cellular data usage.”
The ability to switch back and forth between unlimited service and data by the gig each month is a big differentiator for Comcast, compared with competitors. “Nobody else lets you do this,” said Menezes. “It will be great to see how quickly other carriers match this feature.”
On the other hand, mobile phone users who do a lot of international roaming may not get what they need because Comcast so far hasn’t discussed whether this will be possible, he said. Also potentially hindering subscribers is that customers will have to buy a new phone from Comcast and can’t port their existing devices to use the service, said Menezes.
Menezes said he is also wary about the WiFi capabilities of the new service, which may not work well for users who need to make calls in indoor locations where cellular signals may be weak. “My understanding is that Comcast isn’t supporting voice over WiFi, so if you’re connected to an Xfinity hotspot you’d still need to get a Verizon cellular signal to make a voice call,” he said. “You could still make a voice over WiFi call using an over the top app like Apple’s FaceTime or Facebook or WhatsApp, I imagine. You just couldn’t use the native phone dialer to do a voice call over an Xfinity hotspot.”
That scenario is in contrast with the four major national carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—which all enable this feature in iPhones and most Android devices, said Menezes.
Another analyst, Charles King, principal analyst of Pund-IT, said that by designing its new service to appeal to its existing cable customers, Comcast is “leading with its strengths rather than trying to outdo mobile players like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.” It’s pay by the gig option does, however, copy other mobile innovators such as Google’s Fi service, “which has long delivered flat-rate pricing and data plans that charge by the GBs used per month.”
Yet despite those moves, King said he is “not sure it will be enough to inspire customers to embrace Xfinity. With droves of consumers continuing to abandon cable carriers, it seems unlikely that sizable numbers will change their minds and willingly tie their mobile services to cable bundles.”
Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw Research, called Xfinity Mobile “a decent offering, but it probably majors too much on WiFi given how little value its users will get out of that element of the service.”
The service will be “a really good deal for the top 25 percent of existing Comcast customers, and just a decent deal for all their other customers,” he said. “It will probably work out cheaper than Verizon’s own services, which is not bad given that Verizon is the underlying network provider so users will get the same coverage and quality. But even if it does really well, the fact that Comcast is only going to be selling it to its own broadband customers means the impact on the overall market will be pretty limited.”
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts first revealed the company’s plans last September at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference in New York, but rumors about such an offering had circulated for at least a year earlier, according to an earlier eWEEK report.
The move comes as Comcast continues to seek new sources for revenue and business as many consumers drop their cable television and internet services and move to streaming video and media services, such as Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Comcast made a similar bold move in April 2016 when it announced the acquisition of DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion as the longtime cable company seeks to steady its future by adding complementary businesses as the future of cable television remains unfocused.