Jan 10, 2023 - Economy

Cable companies eye mobile as next frontier

<span style="background:#ffa515; padding:3px 5px;color:white;">Fixed wireline</span> and <span style="background:#1085df; padding:3px 5px;color:white;">mobile</span> broadband subscriptions in North and South America
Data: International Telecommunication Union; Chart: Axios Visuals

The country's biggest cable companies have been leaning into mobile plans as pay-TV subscriptions plummet and growth from broadband begins to plateau.

Why it matters: Cable operators are betting that mobile plans in their bundles will make it harder for consumers to quit their other services.

State of play: Several big cable companies, including Comcast, Charter and Altice, launched mobile plans to help offset legacy businesses challenges in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively.

  • Cox Communications, a subsidiary of Axios' parent company, last week launched Cox Mobile, a new service that's available to all of its 5.6 million U.S. internet customers.
  • Mobile giants like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile still have the biggest reach for mobile plans. But cable companies have won some market share with competitive pricing and flexible plans, per CNBC.
  • The cable operators partner with mobile companies to use their networks to serve their customers. Comcast's Xfinity Mobile and Charter's Spectrum Mobile all use Verizon's network. Altice has a deal with T-Mobile.

Meanwhile: The mobile companies have eaten away at cable operators' businesses by creating their own at-home internet offerings, such as Verizon Fios and AT&T Fiber. T-Mobile launched a virtual cable bundle service called TVision in 2019.

The big picture: Fixed broadband businesses have helped cable companies stay afloat as cord cutting accelerated, but that safety net is beginning to fade as subscriber growth tapers off.

  • Pricey plans have been a factor in broadband's slowed growth, along with mobile companies improving their speed and quality of coverage.
  • According to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, 45% of those who don't subscribe to a broadband at home said a reason was the monthly cost being too expensive and because their smartphone meets their needs.

The bottom line: The new cable bundle is a rollup of broadband and mobile internet services, with Pay-TV as an offering that exists only for those still interested in paying for linear TV.

Go deeper