Comcast President Sees Fiber as Key Rival, Not FWA

Dec 04, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Dec. 4, 2023 – Comcast sees fiber broadband as its most potent competitive threat and that today’s intense rivalry with fast-growing fixed wireless firms will subside over the long run because of inherent radio spectrum limitations within the 5G network.

“We really think in the set-up of the high-speed data market … we’re really focused on the key competitor over the long-term being fiber. The good news is that we’ve competed against fiber for 20 years. We know how to compete against fiber,” Comcast President Mike Cavanagh said Monday while taking questions at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference.

Cavanagh said fiber broadband service is available today in 50% of Comcast's territory.

“It’s probably heading to 60% … and it probably will keep going,” he said.

Comcast intends to meet the fiber challenge by continuing to upgrade its network and promote the hybrid cable TV-streaming Xumo device in addition to extending the growth trajectory of its mobile phone business, perhaps as a bundled offering in some situations.

“We want to have the best high-speed data product out there,” Cavanagh said. “I believe … that [competitive] intensity should settle at some point. We’ll be well positioned for the marketplace at that stage.”

Last quarter, Comcast lost 18,000 broadband subscribers while T-Mobile and Verizon added about 900,000 subscribers combined to their fixed wireless access (FWA) services. The two FWA providers serve 6.9 million customers combined, while Comcast has 32.2 million.

Cavanagh predicted the FWA threat would diminish based on his belief that FWA has insufficient capacity to keep pace with consumers’ data demands. Comcast’s average broadband customer uses about 700 gigabits of data per month, which the company expects to move higher as more marquee sports are streamed online. Comcast’s Peacock has the exclusive rights to stream the NFL Wild Card game on Jan 13, 2024.

“I think [FWA] will be a permanent part of the marketplace, but I think we are going to see at some point, and I’m not going to predict when, the excess capacity that’s … being used up to provide it as a service will start to tap out,” Cavanagh said.

Last month, Verizon EVP and CFO Tony Skiadas said the company’s FWA network can hold up under the pressure of rising data demands. “There are lots of ways to design a network,” he said. “If we have more demand for fixed wireless access, that is a good problem.”

Last week, Verizon President of Global Networks and Technology Joe Russo said the company plans to add 350,000 to 400,000 FWA subs per quarter going forward.

Cavanagh isn’t the only cable executive to question the competitive viability of FWA. Charter Communications CEO Chris Winfrey has referred to FWA as “really just another form of DSL” compared to the speed and capacity offered by cable’s new broadband network technology called DOCSIS 4.0.

Greg Maffei, President and CEO of Liberty Broadband Corp., pointed out last month that Amazon Prime Video is taking up 25% of the bandwidth in the country when streaming NFL Thursday Night Football. “As you see more of those kinds of events streamed, you are going to put more and more pressure on these networks and I don't think FWA will handle it,” Maffei said.

Maffei’s company owns broadband communications provider GCI in Alaska and 26% of Charter.