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Comcast is going to start selling wireless phone service

Xfinity Mobile will use Verizon’s networks and Comcast customers’ Wi-Fi hotspots.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

The cable guy wants to be your phone guy.

Comcast*, the country’s biggest pay TV provider, is going to start selling wireless phone service as well.

The company has been talking openly about its ambitions for years, but now it is spelling out what it is going to do: It will market its own Xfinity Mobile service, using a combination of Wi-Fi hotspots and a wireless network built on the back of Verizon’s network, to its 24 million broadband customers.

Comcast executives say they’re interested in generating a new line of revenue with the service. But they say their primary interest is making the services they already sell more sticky.

The idea is that if you’re a Comcast wireless subscriber, you’ll be more likely to keep getting broadband, or pay TV, from Comcast as well.

Some details:

  • Comcast’s core pitch is a flexible plan that offers unlimited voice calls and text, and lets you buy data as you need it, for $12 per gigabyte. It’s also offering an unlimited data plan for $65 a month; that can drop to $45 for customers who buy lots of pay TV.
  • The service uses a combination of a wireless service operated by Verizon, augmented by an array of 16 million Wi-Fi hotspots Comcast customers already use. The idea is that as you step into a house, or store, with a Comcast Wi-Fi connection, your phone will automatically switch over to the local network.
  • Comcast will only sell the service to people who are already buying broadband from the company.
  • Comcast’s service will support iPhones and high-end Samsung phones, as well as more modest handsets from LG.

I’ll let the wireless experts weigh in on the pros and cons of Comcast’s plan, but at first glance it seems like it makes sense for its customers. The service is competitively priced — my Verizon unlimited plan, for instance, costs me $80 a month — and Comcast is going out of its way to make the service less Comcasty than its other lines.

For instance, there’s an option to get customer service, from a real human being, via text messages.

The strategy has logic for Comcast as well. Comcast now sells more broadband subscriptions than pay TV subscriptions, so adding on wireless data subscriptions is a natural way to extend its core business. It’s also a way to bolster revenue as pay TV numbers stagnate, either because customers are cutting the cord or never signing up for it in the first place.

* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.

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