In this photo illustration, the Cox Communications logo is displayed on a smartphone screen.
Rafael Henrique SOPA Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images
Cox Communications is ringing in the new year with the official launch of its mobile business.
The private cable and internet operator plans to announce the national launch of Cox Mobile Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Cox walked their friends like Comcast, Paper Communications and Altice USAwho started offering mobile phone service to their customers in recent years and have been increasing customers rapidly.
Like Comcast and Charter services, Cox Mobile will only be available to new and existing customers. Cox has 7 million customers in 18 states, and has quietly begun offering mobile service in certain markets in recent months.
Cable operators have started offering mobile service with the aim of giving customers another reason not to leave their broadband plans. This is true now more than ever, as profitability for these business units is in sight.
Cable companies have been losing pay TV customers to streaming-only services, although this has accelerated recently. However, broadband subscriber growth has stalled in recent quarters as competition has increased and customer switching activity has stagnated as the housing market slows.
“I think they’re now repurposing wireless as a way to bolster their broadband business. There’s not a lot of profitability in it yet, but that’s not their concern. The concern is staying with customers of broadband,” said John Hodulik, an analyst at UBS. .
How competition forms
Although similar wireless companies AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile retain most wireless customers in the United States, Comcast and Charter’s mobile businesses are growing at a faster rate because of cheaper and more flexible plans.
Charter’s Spectrum Mobile offers a $30 unlimited data plan, or $14 off the gigabyte of internet used in the monthly plan. Similarly, Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile starts at $30 for unlimited data, or $15 per gigabyte.
The cheaper options stem from their ability to rely heavily on home broadband Wi-Fi and hotspots for data usage. When their mobile customers ditch Wi-Fi and rely on a network, they offload to the cable companies’ partner operator — Verizon for both Comcast and Charter — still giving the wireless company a chunk of the pie.
Cox Mobile will offer similar, unlimited plans for $45 a month or $15 a gig. Cox is also using Verizon as its network partner, which the company is expected to confirm at Thursday’s event.
A wrench was thrown into Cox’s plans to launch its cellphone business when T-Mobile sued the company in 2021, saying Cox was obligated to pursue a partnership with them. Earlier this year, a Delaware court judge reportedly ruled in Cox’s favor.
Charter said it had 4.7 million wireless customers as of Sept. 30, while Comcast said it reached 5 million.
“We started with this reimagined mobile service because we knew customers would spend a significant amount of time on Wi-Fi,” said Danny Bowman, Charter’s chief mobile officer, adding that Spectrum Mobile customers spend about 85% of their time on Wi-Fi.
“By keeping the mobile package simple, we have exponential growth,” added Bowman. Charter and Comcast also allow customers to bring their own devices, an option Cox will not yet offer. Currently, customers must purchase Samsung phones through Cox for service.
‘We need to do this’
Smaller cable operators are also seeing the value of offering a mobile plan to customers.
The National Content and Technology Cooperative, or NCTC, an industry group made up of more than 700 cable and broadband providers, has been in discussions to create a mobile offering for its members.
“It’s become such a focal point. It’s the thing that everyone seems to think is the must-have,” NCTC President Lou Borrelli said of the mobile offerings. “I’ve seen it called the new package. I don’t dispute that.”
Since NCTC’s membership includes small providers — many in rural areas — the cooperative began discussions with wireless operators last year on behalf of its entire base.
Borrelli said the NCTC was in no rush to offer mobile until it saw how Charter and Comcast did net increases in 2021. “I remember getting calls from some of our board members saying, ‘You know, maybe we should look at this.’ ,'” he said.
The NCTC negotiations should end this year, said Borrelli. Some have already added mobile. Based on Colorado Wow! Internet, Cable and Telephone unveiled a mobile plan in July through a partnership with Reach Mobile.
Borrelli said that consumer research in certain markets showed that companies had no choice in this matter. “Members told us that they don’t care what the results are, we have to do this.”
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal, which owns CNBC.