Perfect timing for Comcast to jump into the fray, right?
The nation's largest cable provider on Thursday shared details of Xfinity Mobile, including pricing and the kinds of devices available to customers. It plans to launch the service, which will run on Verizon's network as part of a reseller agreement, by the middle of the year.
Comcast isn't looking to pick a fight with the big four carriers -- the Philadelphia-based company acknowledges that it can't compete with their splashy national campaigns. Instead, it will target existing Xfinity internet and video customers in its territory, so chances are you won't even hear about this service unless you live in an area where Comcast is available.
Comcast is the latest to expand into a new service in the bid to be all things to the customer. It's a trend you've seen with telecom provider AT&T bulk up its video offering with DirecTV, or Verizon getting into the media business via AOL and Yahoo. And while Comcast doesn't see itself as a direct competitor to wireless providers, Xfinity Mobile gives certain consumers another potentially cheaper alternative. It's also a chance for Comcast to show that maybe cable companies don't always deserve that bad reputation.
If you're an Xfinity X1 video customer, the price of each unlimited data line is $45, and for anyone else, $65 (Comcast internet customers, for instance). The intent is to get existing customers -- a base of nearly 29 million -- to tack on another service, making it harder for them to leave.
"Our goal is to improve loyalty and drive customer growth," Greg Butz, president of Comcast Mobile, said in an interview on Wednesday. For light data users, Comcast offers the option to pay $12 per gigabyte.
The company will offer the first 100 megabytes of data, along with calls and text messages, for free. Customers will be able to switch between the unlimited and per-gig plans from month to month and allow for accounts within the same household to choose different plans.
The unlimited data plans allow for hotspot usage, and Comcast said it would slow down your connection until you hit 20 gigabytes of data. It hopes to offset excessive data usage through its network of 16 million Wi-Fi hotspots throughout its territory.
While the single-line plans are competitive (only Sprint offers a cheaper option), they are less so when you add more lines. T-Mobile's unlimited plan costs $160 for four lines, or $40 a line. Sprint is even cheaper at $90 for four lines, although it jumps up to $160 after a year. Comcast will offer no discount with additional lines.
(Check out our full breakdown of unlimited data plans.)
An uphill battle
Xfinity Mobile will be fighting against history, which has seen cable providers try to get into the wireless business -- and failing miserably. For example, there was that joint venture, Pivot, between Sprint and multiple cable companies that went nowhere.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in January that he thought the cable companies would get their "asses kicked" in wireless and pull back by 2018. Comcast declined to comment.
This is also a time when the big wireless providers, Verizon and AT&T, are losing customers to T-Mobile, which has re-energized its brand behind Legere, and to Sprint, which has dramatically undercut the competition.
Then there's the reputation issue. The Consumerist once called Comcast the worst company in America, and its American Customer Satisfaction Index score is significantly lower than any of the wireless providers. (Comcast scored a 62, while Sprint, which had the poorest score among the major wireless providers, got a 70.)
A halo effect?
Comcast recognizes that challenge and believes Xfinity Mobile can help repair its reputation.
"We see this as a halo to let customers think about cable differently," Butz said.
Comcast executives were quick to note that its X1 video streaming platform has earned positive reviews and resulted in a third less turnover. While its ACSI score lagged well behind the wireless carriers, it was up from the previous year's 54 score.
The company is hoping to cement that relationship with Xfinity Mobile. Beyond its pricing plans, it will offer the latest Apple, Samsung and LG phones. The company showed off an easy-to-use online ordering system and noted that the phone would be set ahead of time to automatically log into Xfinity services like mobile video streaming. That means near instant access to cable content once the phone is activated.
Customers will also be able to chat with customer service via text message.
The hope is that between its X1 service and mobile, customers will start giving Comcast a fresh look.
"This is about changing the perception of the brand," Butz said.