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Amid Wireless Shake-Up, Comcast Is Elephant In the Room

Two decades of vacillation within the U.S. pay-TV industry about jumping into wireless telephony is nearing an end, turning up the pressure on traditional carriers like Verizon and AT&T.

The latest signal: disclosure on Friday that Dish Network bid $13 billion for extra wireless spectrum in the just-concluded federal auction. The bid beat Verizon and was second to AT&T.

Also, Cablevision Systems last week unveiled a Wi-Fi-based wireless phone service. That came after The Information reported that Google was prepping a national mobile phone service, which will rely on a mix of Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

The implications of those moves may be limited. Cablevision is a relatively small operator concentrated around New York, and Google is in uncharted territory. Dish has been sitting on spectrum for a while and has hinted it would rather partner than build its own network. (In 2012, Dish also held informal talks with Google about developing a wireless network together.)

What could really shake up the wireless industry is if Comcast enters the market, with or without its hoped-for acquisition of Time Warner Cable.

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That’s one reason why a Comcast purchase of T-Mobile remains a possibility, although Mr. Moffett argues that Comcast should wait until cellular company valuations have been deflated by the price wars before making such a move. Stocks of Verizon and AT&T have both weakened over the past year, although T-Mobile stock is up, likely reflecting perceptions that its aggressive price-cuts will help it draw customers.

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“Wi-Fi is becoming forefront in people’s mind,” says one executive at a cable firm that has been considering a mobile phone service.