Comcast might try its hand at mobile phone service

Comcast is reportedly weighing a move into the mobile phone business with a service that would let customers make phone calls from WiFi hotspots outside the home. According to The Information, this new proposal would also see Comcast leasing cellular capacity from other wireless providers in places where a WiFi hotspot is unavailable.

The rumored plans suggest something we've long suspected: broadband companies and telephone companies will likely find themselves in competition as the country shifts away from its old copper phone network and toward high-speed, data-capable fiber optic networks. Phone calls soon will look just like any other form of data traffic.

Comcast isn't the only potential player here. You've also got Google, which is reportedly considering using Google Fiber as a way to deliver phone service to customers. And companies like Republic Wireless are already operating under the model of shunting calls to WiFi whenever possible. As I've written before, using WiFi instead of a cellular carrier's bandwidth is far cheaper. In fact, wireless companies themselves are counting on it: Cisco estimates that over half of all mobile Internet traffic currently travels over WiFi, and that number is only going to grow as consumption increases and engineers make improvements to the WiFi standard.

"WiFi is the workhorse," said Jeff Campbell, Cisco's vice president of global government affairs for the Americas. "With more than 200,000 hotspots deployed by five major broadband operators like Cox and Comcast, you have this tremendous WiFi coverage."

All this is taking place against the backdrop of a proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Comcast heads to Capitol Hill today to sell the Senate on the deal. But whether this report of a move into cellular service is part of the cable giant's charm offensive is unclear.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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