Sprint and Time Warner Cable are discussing a deal that would allow the cable provider to offer cellphone service, the companies said yesterday. Such a deal would make the Time...

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sprint and Time Warner Cable are discussing a deal that would allow the cable provider to offer cellphone service, the companies said yesterday.

Such a deal would make the Time Warner unit the only major cable company to offer the so-called “quadruple play” — television, high-speed Internet access and both wired and wireless phone service.

It would also be the latest in a series of partnerships for Sprint in which other companies introduce their own brand of cell service using Sprint’s network. These include deals with AT&T, the ESPN unit of Walt Disney Co., Virgin Mobile USA and Qwest.

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While representatives of both companies confirmed talks are under way, they wouldn’t say if a deal was imminent, as was reported yesterday by The Wall Street Journal.

The paper said the new service would be limited to the Kansas City, Mo., market and be available in the first quarter of 2005.

Sprint and Time Warner, the nation’s second-largest cable company, with 11 million subscribers, announced a partnership a year ago that allowed Time Warner to offer standard phone service over Sprint’s landline network using Internet technology.

Talks with MCI, too

Time Warner is also working with MCI on Internet telephone service and has signed up 200,000 voice customers in its 31 markets, said Time Warner spokesman Keith Cocozza.

Since then, Sprint has announced similar deals with other cable companies, such as Mediacom Communications and USA Companies.

Sprint spokesman Jeff Shafer said the company is in talks with all of its cable partners to eventually resell Sprint wireless service as part of a package deal to subscribers.

“Our relationship with the cable companies is as much about offering the quadruple play as it is offering [Internet phone service],” Shafer said. “This is all about offering a compelling bundle to the consumer.”

Cable companies are in a fight with traditional phone carriers such as SBC, BellSouth and Verizon. Both want to offer the full range of TV programming, high-speed Internet, standard voice services and wireless.

Customer loyalty

The strategy is based on the assumption that a customer receiving a wide range of services from a single company is less likely to jump ship to another provider.

A consortium of cable companies, including Time Warner, is studying how to break into the wireless business, either by building its own network, buying a wireless provider or teaming with a company like Sprint to resell the service.

Sprint is the nation’s third-largest cellular provider, with about 23 million subscribers.

Earlier this month, Sprint and Nextel said they would combine in a $35 billion deal that would create a company with 38 million wireless subscribers.