Cable in Talks With Sprint Nextel?

A group of cable companies is close to striking a deal with wireless phone carrier Sprint Nextel to sell cellular services, news reports Tuesday indicate.

Cox, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are part of a consortium that is a few weeks away from signing a deal with the wireless carrier, according to news reports by Multichannel News and the Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the talks.

According to the report, the mobile phone service would be a Sprint Nextel-branded offering but serve as the foundation for other services for cable customers. The services include using Wi-Fi to connect cell phones to set-top boxes and wireless broadband service to laptops.

Sprint Nextel owns a large swatch of wireless broadband-friendly spectrum at 1.9 gigahertz, thanks to a deal with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this year.

Officials from Sprint were not available for comment at press time, while representatives from Cox, Time Warner and Comcast declined to comment on speculation.

The deal, if signed, would signal yet another round of competition between the cable TV and telephone industries, which have been encroaching on the other’s territory.

Cable companies have been expanding their operations past TV and high-speed Internet services into telephony through VoIP , while the Baby Bells have been rolling out fiber-optic networks to provide television.

The one area cable companies haven’t been able to reach nationwide, however, is in the wireless arena.

Telecom giants Verizon , SBC and BellSouth control two of the largest wireless phone networks in the U.S. — Verizon Wireless and Cingular, a joint venture between SBC and BellSouth.

Time Warner Cable has been looking into the wireless option for some time now to get into the quadruple play of TV, broadband, and wireline and mobile telephony. The company has been offering mobile phone service to residents in Kansas City through Sprint.

Mark Harrad, a Time Warner Cable spokesman, said the company doesn’t have any plans at this time to expand the service to other cities. The cable company also has a standing arrangement with Sprint Nextel to help with its residential VoIP rollout.

The other cable companies in the rumored wireless deal, Cox and Comcast, also have ties to Sprint Nextel.

The two were Sprint PCS investors in the mid-1990s, said David Grabert, a spokesman at Cox, along with Tele-Communications, with a 10 percent stake in the company. Cox, he said, sold the last of its 10 million shares in the company in October 2000.

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