Comcast in ‘Test and Learn Mode’ for Wireless

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts took the roundabout way in admitting the nation’s largest operator has exercised its wireless MVNO option with Verizon Communications, adding that it is likely its NBC broadcast unit will participate the upcoming spectrum auctions.

On a conference call to discuss third quarter results, Roberts said that Comcast believes wireless is an important area for the company and stressed that it takes six months after exercising the option to activate the MVNO.

“We’re going to trial some  things and test some things after we activate and we’ll update people as that progresses,” Roberts said. “But it’s an opportunity to take the network and the successful  investments we’ve  made and try to see if we can continue relationships  and product  innovation that the team is working on.”

The MVNO agreement stems from the 2011 sale of wireless licenses owned by SpectrumCo, a consortium that included Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, to Verizon for $3.6 billion. The MVNO agreement allows the cable operators to resell Verizon wireless service in their footprint.

Cable division CEO Neil Smit added that there is nothing new to report.

“We’re in test and learn mode,” Smit said.

Verizon chief financial officer Fran Shammo said during an earnings conference call Oct. 22 that one of the cable companies has exercised the MVNO agreement, but declined to identify it. Comcast had been said to been talks with Verizon about the MVNO deal and was largely believed to be the cable company that exercised the option.

Some analysts had believed that exercising the MVNO agreement meant that Comcast also would participate in the upcoming federal broadcast spectrum auctions, using those additional licenses to fill out areas the MVNO does not cover. On the call, Roberts said its NBC broadcast unit plans to participate in the auction, but as a contributor of spectrum not a buyer.

Still, Roberts left the door slightly ajar that the cable unit could participate in the auctions. But Roberts said that the cable giant does not feel the need to own the network.

“We’ve always felt it’s part of a product set, I don’t think we feel that we have to necessarily in any way seek owner’s economics,” Roberts said. “On the NBC side we intend to participate. On the cable side it’s something we will continue to study.”