Charter exec says wireless Internet services have reliability issues

Chris Winfrey, the chief operating officer of Charter Communications, appears in an undated image.
Chris Winfrey, the chief operating officer of Charter Communications, appears in an undated image. (Handout photo courtesy Charter Communications, Graphic by The Desk)

Wireless companies T-Mobile and Verizon have invested a significant amount of time, energy, focus and money in building out and marketing their next-generation home Internet products, which offer fast download speeds by utilizing their fifth-generation (5G) networks.

But a top executive at a traditional cable broadband company says customers are eventually going to realize that wireless companies just can’t compete in the broadband Internet space with the products that have been brought to market, and he predicts subscriber will eventually switch back to cable companies for their broadband Internet needs.

The remarks were made by Chris Winfrey, the chief operating officer of Charter Communications, during a conference call with investors on Friday after his company released its quarterly earnings report. Charter, which offers broadband Internet to residential and small business customers under the Spectrum brand, has more than 30 million Internet subscribers, a number that grew by 75,000 compared to this time last year.

Throughout most of Charter’s service footprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have launched wireless home Internet offerings, which promise fast download speeds at a low price point and without service contracts. Depending on a customer’s plan, the average wireless subscriber spends anywhere from $30 to $50 a month to add wireless home Internet to their package.

Early reviews of T-Mobile and Verizon’s wireless home Internet offerings have been mixed at best, with customer experiences varying widely, depending on where they live and their Internet demands.

On Friday, Winfrey acknowledged the competition that T-Mobile and Verizon have brought to the broadband Internet space, but said most customers who are signing up for those products appear to be residential and business customers who are moving away from DSL, an older Internet technology that companies like AT&T are starting to shut off.

“In terms of competitive impact, some of the lower gross additions we see probably relate to DSL conversion going to a new entrant, fixed wireless instead of coming to us,” Winfrey said.

But Winfrey believes customers who are drawn in to T-Mobile and Verizon’s fixed wireless products will eventually grow dissatisfied with it, and they will eventually switch to cable-based Internet products like Spectrum Internet.

“Given the issues with fixed wireless product reliability and scalability and usage trends, we expect those customers to find their way back to us over the long-term,” Winfrey affirmed.

At least one company has already affirmed some limitations associated with fixed wireless Internet. In August, a T-Mobile executive affirmed that a limited data home Internet plan introduced by the company was intended to broaden the availability of its fixed wireless home Internet product while still working within the capacity of its network.

“We only offer our unlimited home internet service where we know there’s enough capacity to deliver a great home broadband experience,” Kaley Gagnon, the vice president of marketing at T-Mobile, told the website Fierce Wireless.

Later that month, a former T-Mobile employee claimed customers who reported issues with their T-Mobile fixed wireless Internet service were deliberately given incorrect information by the company’s support agents.

“I could tell you stories all day long about calls from customers with issues on their home internet service that never got solved, because no one in any of those departments, no matter how high up the chain we went, had any idea how to fix the problem,” the employee reportedly said during an interview with the tech publication Tom’s Hardware.

The interview came after reporter Brandon Hill wrote a story in which he recouted a problem with his own T-Mobile fixed wireless Internet service. After troubleshooting his issue, a customer support agent eventually told Hill that a “tower upgrade” was to blame for his specific problem — an excuse that Hill’s source said was widely used by T-Mobile customer support workers when they couldn’t figure out what was really going on.