Comcast's Roberts: Broadband business is booming and not just because of Covid-19

Comcast
Comcast is pulling in new broadband subscribers at a record clip, according to CEO Brian Roberts. (Comcast)

It looks as though Comcast's Q3 broadband additions are blowing the doors off of previous quarters, according to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. At the Goldman Sachs 29th Annual Communacopia Conference on Tuesday, Roberts said the single best quarter Comcast previously ever had for net broadband adds was 492,000 in 2008.

"I'm pleased to say we're going to beat that this quarter," Roberts said, according to a transcript of the conference. "We're already looking at over 500,000. Now, the quarter hasn't closed. I'm not sure exactly where we will land, but I feel really great about that success."

RELATED: Comcast adds 323,000 internet customers in Q2 2020

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In the second quarter, Comcast added 323,000 high-speed internet customers, which was Comcast's best Q2 in 13 years. The Q2 net adds didn't include over 600,000 additional high-risk or free internet essentials customers that are receiving Comcast’s internet service as part of its Covid-19 Keep Americans Connected pledge.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Comcast attributed its ability to handle network capacity increases—due to remote workers and remote learning—to the investments it has made over the years in its broadband network. Along with new digital tools and applications, Roberts echoed those investments in the broadband network as one of the reasons for his company's robust subscriber additions to date in the current third quarter.

In particular, Comcast's investment in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies paid off in spades during the coronavirus pandemic. Using AI, Comcast's Octave platform, which it started to develop last year, can detect network anomalies such as external LTE noise across the 50 million modems that the cable operator has deployed. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, Comcast was able to increase its download capacity by 36%. Comcast started to deploy its first version of Octave for increased downstream capacity in January on a rolling basis across its footprint.

With limited access into subscribers' homes for installs, Comcast also came up with its "home drop-off" self installation kits in the late March to early April timeframe. Home drop-off allowed the field techs to test the signal strength outside of homes or businesses prior to dropping off the equipment needed for installs. Home drop-off allows the techs to stay outside of customers' locations during installs.

RELATED: How Comcast mobilized its tech troops during the onslaught of Covid-19

Another handy tool during the early days of Covid-19 was Comcast's Xfinity Assistant. Comcast saw a 445% increase in the use of its Xfinity Assistant, which allows customers to get help from any connected device from the comfort of their homes. Comcast had been developing Xfinity Assistant over the previous 18 months prior to Covid-19, but that work ramped up once the pandemic hit.

During Tuesday's conference, Roberts was asked what Comcast was doing to ensure that its broadband momentum continued in a post-Covid-19 world? Roberts said while the third quarter wasn't over, adding the second quarter net subs to the current third quarter additions "are going to look better than anything we've seen in 10 years" for its broadband services.

"We're nine months in, so if you go to pre-Covid and include that last year, for the entire year we added 1.4 million broadband net adds," Roberts said. "I think, we will greatly exceed last year's total this year. So broadband, it goes without saying, is in general a fantastic business for us and one we believe that will have great growth to come in the years ahead. So why is that?

"We spent many years and billions of dollars investing in this broadband network, in digital tools that have helped so much during Covid. And it's more than just speed and reliability, but those are critical elements as well. So when you put it all together, this is the heart and soul of the company, and it's working really well."

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