Comcast said to be concocting a wireless mobile phone plan

Word has it that the cable operator is working on a mobile service that will primarily rely on Wi-Fi to deliver voice, text messaging, and data services. When Wi-Fi isn’t available, the service will use spectrum from traditional cellular carriers.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
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Comcast appears to have a new trick up its sleeve. The cable operator is reportedly looking to create a mobile phone service that would mostly rely on Wi-Fi, according to a report by The Information.

The alleged service would use Wi-Fi from wireless routers and public hotspots in areas where those services are available; and, in more rural zones, the service would lease spectrum from common cellular carriers, like Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T.

While definitely a first for a major company, smaller carriers in the US -- such as Republic Wireless -- are already using this kind of service. Republic's low-cost plans start at $5 a month for the most basic service that include unlimited talk, text messaging, and data service while in Wi-Fi hot spots only.

Like Comcast's purported plan, Republic uses both Wi-Fi and cellular wireless technology to offer users its mobile service. When Wi-Fi is unavailable, it automatically switches to a cellular wireless network. It leases capacity from Sprint, which means wherever Sprint offers cellular service is where users can access Republic's network.

Republic has spent time ironing out some of the bumps in its service, such as the switching back and forth between Wi-Fi and cellular and finding the right devices to handle the service. These are all issue that Comcast would have to deal with also.

It's unclear if Comcast's Wi-Fi mobile plans coincide with its building out a Wi-Fi network in public areas over the past couple of years.

Last June, the company announced the launch of the new home-based, neighborhood hot-spot initiative, in which subscribers host Wi-Fi hot spots that other Comcast customers can use as part of their monthly broadband service. Comcast also announced it added more than 150,000 indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi hot spots in more than a dozen major cities across the US.

The news of Comcast's purported mobile service comes as the company kicked off the regulatory review process for its $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable. Comcast issued a filing Tuesday detailing the benefits of the merger and defending itself against claims that the deal would harm competition.

CNET contact Comcast for comment on the hybrid Wi-Fi and cellular mobile service. We'll update the story when we get more information.