Top Comcast and Charter Execs Continue to Dismiss FWA -- 'It Won't Ever Be as Good' as DOCSIS 4.0

T-Mobile FWA
Donald Faison, John Travolta and Zach Braff: advertising T-Mobile's fixed wireless access service. (Image credit: T-Mobile)

Verizon and T-Mobile's collective fixed wireless access services accounted for more than 90% of customer growth in U.S. home broadband in the fourth quarter, and the business, which now has over 4 million customers, is going well enough for T-Mobile to commission 30 seconds of commercial time during last month's Super Bowl to promote it. 

The going rate for half a minute of airtime during the big game ran between $6 million and $7 million this year, and that was before T-Mobile paid John Travolta, Zach Braff and Donald Faison to star in its FWA spot. 

Still, the top executives at America's two leading cable companies continued to downplay FWA while speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference this week, with Charter Communications CEO Chris Winfrey labeling FWA as merely the latest version of "wireless substitution" that will "never be as good" as the cable industry's advanced DOCSIS 4.0 networks. 

Also read: Cable Broadband Customer Growth Was Down by Around 500K in Q1 ... but Fixed Wireless Added 500K

Winfrey described FWA as merely "chipping away at the lower end of the market," an assertion that jibed with comments made a day earlier at the event by Comcast president Mike Cavanagh. He said his company won't chase "lower-end users who may have peeled away to give FWA a try."

Tests conducted by OpenSignal late last year revealed that 5G FWA does indeed fall short of high-end cable broadband in terms of speed and latency, but maybe not so much that customers can resist the $50-a-month price tag. 

Comcast actually lost high-speed internet customers (26,000 of them) in the fourth quarter, while Charter managed to eke out a gain of around 105,000. 

Both companies have committed to major multi-billion-dollar upgrades of their networks over the next few years based on DOCSIS 4.0 technologies, multi-gigabit overhauls they believe will ultimately vanquish FWA in the national market. 

Cavanagh said Comcast will continue to focus on premium broadband products. 

“We want to stick to the strategy of playing the long game against a high demand for a high quality, best in class” product, Cavanagh said Wednesday. “We will, with selective offers and what’s right for different segments, answer some of the competitive threat. But we’re not going to lose sight of the bigger prize over the longer term.” 

For his part, Winfrey said the cable industry's innovation around hybrid fiber/coax won't stop with DOCSIS 4.0. And he, too, still believes that will leave FWA in the dust. 

"I think over time, as they say, the truth will prevail," he said.

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!