Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge kicked off the company’s fourth quarter 2016 earnings call today by saying, “2016 was a very big year for Charter.”
That’s an understatement.
In 2016, the cable company acquired Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable. Those acquisitions effectively quadrupled the size of Charter, which now passes 50 million homes and businesses and serves more than 26 million customers.
Today, the company pulled another surprise, announcing that as part of a mobile offering it’s planning for 2018, it’s also doing some 5G tests.
“We’ve now activated our MVNO [mobile virtual network operator] agreement with Verizon, and we plan to launch a mobile offering in 2018 under that agreement,” said Rutledge, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the earnings call. “Our goal is to include wireless services in our packages and drive more customer relationship growth, and longer customer lives, at Charter.”
In addition, Charter is launching high-capacity, experimental, 5G-like field trials using spectrum test licenses that the FCC recently granted to the company.
“We intend to use these field trials as learning opportunities to provide us with better insight into the capabilities of our wireline network, when attaching radios with high-frequency licensed and unlicensed spectrum, and see how our various wireless network building blocks can be used in conjunction with one another, to offer services that we’ll develop over time,” said Rutledge.
The CEO said Charter’s wireless business plan is flexible as it takes advantage of its network in response to evolving consumer demand.
In terms of the initial 5G tests, Rutledge said Charter is looking at very short-range, small cell, high-capacity technology, which the company is experimenting with in labs.
Most of Charter’s 22 million Internet customers use WiFi within their homes, connected to Charter’s Internet service. So even though many of those customers have a contract with a mobile cellular provider, a large percentage of the bits coming through their mobile devices are coming through the WiFi platform. “So we’re a wireless provider of data services today,” said Rutledge.