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Why Comcast’s Wireless Service Hasn’t Shaken Up the Market – Yet

When the largest cable company, Comcast, last year announced plans to attack the mobile market, some analysts said the move would bring even more competition that could further bring down prices and improve offerings for consumers.

But nearly a year on, Comcast’s wireless service isn’t having much impact on the larger market. Some analysts say that’s by design, though Comcast insists it’s just getting started.

Since introducing its “Xfinity Mobile” service last May, Comcast disclosed on Wednesday that it has picked up a total of 577,000 wireless customers. That pales in comparison with market leader Verizon and its 116 million retail customers, or AT&T’s (T) 93 million branded customers. Even T-Mobile (TMUS) had 73 million customers and Sprint (S) 55 million at the end of last year.

The slow progress “calls into question the impact that cable can have on the wireless industry,” analyst Walter Piecyk noted on Wednesday after Comcast’s new figures came out. Xfinity Mobile is growing at a rate “well short” of a level “that would concern the wireless industry,” he added.

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The level of customer defections, called churn in the industry, has not risen despite Comcast’s service and heavy ad campaign. Verizon just reported that its total retail postpaid churn rate dropped to 1.04% in the first quarter, down from 1.15% a year earlier. Nor have prices come down, even though Comcast is offering relatively cheap unlimited data plan pricing.

The muted impact may be due to some limits Comcast imposed on its service so far. Only customers of one of Comcast’s other services, like cable TV or home broadband Internet connections, can sign up. That not only limits the potential audience to Comcast’s 30 million current customers, but also limits the geographic reach of the mobile service to states where Comcast already operates. Comcast also didn’t build its own mobile network — it leases service from Verizon (VZ) under a private agreement that may hamper its ability to compete more broadly. And Comcast only recently started allowing customers to use their old phones when signing up for new service.

Still, Comcast (CMCSA) executives say they are pleased. In a hint that competing with other wireless carriers isn’t the company’s main goal, CFO Michael Cavanagh emphasized that bundling the mobile service with other offerings like home internet helped retain customers.

“We are seeing real momentum as the product is resonating with our customer base,” Cavanagh said on Wednesday on a call with analysts. “We believe Xfinity Mobile is a big opportunity to continue to drive the bundling strategy of the cable business and provide more value to our broadband customers.”