The newest gadgets that Comcast sells can’t tune into its TV service or plug into its wired broadband.
Instead, the LTE-enabled Apple Watches it began offering Friday, like the cellular-equipped iPads it started selling Wednesday, connect to Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile. The low-cost wireless service that Comcast launched in April 2017 runs on Verizon Wireless’s network but requires a subscription to Comcast’s residential internet.
Comcast has company in offering cheap, resold wireless connectivity to its broadband subscribers. Spectrum introduced its own Verizon-based service, Spectrum Mobile, to its own internet subscribers last September, and Altice plans to bring a Sprint-based offering to its Optimum subscribers sometime this summer.
Cable operators may have consistently poor customer-satisfaction scores, but these new wireless options can offer exceptional bargains.
At Xfinity Mobile, you can either pay $12 per gigabyte or $45 for “unlimited” – meaning your connection slows at 20 GB and mobile hotspot speeds stop at a near-useless 600 kilobits per second. Putting an Apple Watch or iPad on a plan adds $10 a month.
Spectrum Mobile, meanwhile, charges $14 per GB or $45 for “unlimited” (with a 5 GB data cap for mobile hotspot use and everything slowed after 20 GB), and those prices include taxes and regulatory fees. Tablets require a separate plan.
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Why is it cheaper?
Cable operators can beat the rates of the big four wireless carriers because they can offload some wireless subscribers’ traffic onto the WiFi networks they’ve been building out for years. But these offerings also come with gotchas of their own.
For example, Xfinity doesn’t let you bring an Android phone purchased elsewhere, limiting “bring your own device” affordability to iPhones.
Spectrum limits “BYOD” to recent iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones and supports Wi-Fi calling only on “select” phones, including iPhones, Galaxy devices and Google Pixels.
Susan Welsh de Grimaldo, director of service provider strategies at Strategy Analytics, said the appeal of these cable deals diminishes as data consumption and the number of phones in a household increase.
“For many families with more substantial data use on smartphones while out and about and not on Wi-Fi, the shared plan discounts on other providers may be a better deal,” she said in an email. She also warned against Xfinity and Spectrum’s international-roaming rates – both, for example, charge 10 cents a megabyte in France.
Jeffrey Moore, principal at Wave7 Research, commented that the major carriers offer far more stores for in-person service – “thousands versus hundreds,” he emailed.
Both Moore and de Grimaldo predicted that Altice’s service should surpass Sprint’s network today and yield better performance for Sprint’s own subscribers, thanks to the roughly 19,000 small cell sites Altice has built on its own infrastructure.
“These efforts are likely to lead Sprint to be second to none in parts of Altice’s footprint,” Moore wrote. De Grimaldo said this may also result in lower rates: “Altice has a better cost structure that it can pass through in lower prices for mobile data plans.”
With any of these services, it’s also important to remember the cable operator’s long-term interest in selling you another line of service: making it a little harder for you to take your broadband business elsewhere.
Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Should you let your cable company sell you wireless service, too?