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Roberts: WiFi Could Be Retention, Revenue Tool

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, in keeping with what has been an early theme of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media Communications and Entertainment conference in Los Angeles Tuesday, said that WiFi could be used as both a retention tool and revenue generator in the not too distant future.

Roberts seemed to echo earlier comments by Cablevision CFO Gregg Seibert. In his presentation – which was beamed for New York via satellite – Roberts said that the explosion in WiFi usage has been a boon for cable high-speed data offerings, which usually offer the service as a free add-on to cable customers.

Roberts estimated that about 70% of all data usage goes across WiFi networks. Asked where he envisioned the cable business would be headed in the next three to five years, the Comcast chief said he had no crystal ball, but guessed it would involve products and services built to take advantage of the WiFi network.

“We have a tremendous asset in WiFi,” Roberts said. “Our relationship with our customers and the people who are not our customers understanding how great and powerful a WiFi connection can be, and the more services  and applications that run on WiFi the more that 70% continues to sustain and even grow, as a percentage of your experience as a wireless consumer,  is a great thing for our company and our investment, whether that’s interconnection to cellular operators, building our own WiFi, trying to get to 8 million hotspots by the end of this year, putting faster WiFi equipment in your home, encouraging that ecosystem to keep doing R&D so we can go to much greater speeds. In the end if we have the best most robust pipe, we’re going to have a great business.

Roberts said the WiFi business reminds him of the early days of telephone, when Comcast was criticized for not jumping immediately into circuit switched service.

“Why were we waiting? We were waiting for the right economics, and the right technology,” Roberts said. “We believed that was voice over IP. I see the same kind of dynamic with WiFi. There [are] different versions of WiFi, what are the new revenues associated with it, when do you want to go directly to consumers with some different kinds of products, if ever. That may be the Internet of Things, helping other wireless companies have WiFi as part of their service, or all of the above. That’s what makes it exciting and we’ve  got a team of people doing nothing but thinking  about this and looking at what’s happening everywhere in the world.”