News that Charter Communications (CHTR) - Get Report and Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Report are launching wireless services may have a familiar ring.

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The mobile phone is the missing element of their broadband, TV and voice package. For more than two decades, cable operators have struck pacts, deployed wi-fi hotspots and bought assets in their wireless quest.

It won't be any easier this time.

"This is, right now, the most competitive time to launch another wireless operation," Roger Entner of Recon Analytics said.

"You have a maverick in T-Mobile. You have a desperate guy in Sprint," Entner added. "You have two larger providers that have put their sites straight on the business of the cable company."

Comcast and Charter will provide wireless as mobile virtual network operators, or MVNOs, reselling Verizon's (VZ) - Get Report wireless service.

In their prior wireless efforts, cable companies worked with Sprint.

Back in 1994, Comcast, Time Warner Cable (now part of Charter) and John Malone's Tele-Communications Inc. (sold to the old AT&T and then largely acquired by Comcast) struck a wireless joint venture with Sprint.

The partners marketed local phone, long distance, wireless and cable television. Sprint held 40% of the business, while Tele-Communications Inc. owned 30% and Comcast and Cox each held 15%.

"This alliance of non-traditional partners -- telephone and cable -- will revolutionize what is delivered over your telephone, your cable television and your computer," said then-Sprint Chairman and CEO William Esrey, remarks that could have been made at a 2016 investor conference.

By late 1998, the cable partners exited. Sprint would go on to launch other partnerships with cable operators and jointly purchase spectrum with the pay-TV groups, but none caught on.

Cable's latest pact with Verizon did not seem to trouble executives from T-Mobile USA (TMUS) - Get Report , who spoke at a Goldman Sachs (GS) - Get Report conference in New York on Thursday.

"Are you asking, if we're sitting here concerned that these fat monopolies are going to roll right into wireless and school us all on how it's done?" Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert asked rhetorically. 

"They might roll in here and find it's harder than they thought," Sievert said, noting that Verizon is "notoriously a tough negotiator."

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson also downplayed Comcast's plans to enter the wireless business, calling them a "validation" of its business rather than a sign of worrying competition, earlier in the week at the Goldman Sachs conference.

Cable operators may feel that they have little choice but to take another shot at the wireless market, however. AT&T (T) - Get Report has become the largest U.S. pay-television company with its purchase of DirecTV, and both AT&T and Verizon are investing in mobile video.

John Stankey, who runs AT&T's entertainment group, took a jab at Comcast a year ago during an investor presentation. "I want Comcast to really regret the fact that they don't own a wireless asset," he said, latter declaring, "That's success for me."

If cable operators feel they really need a wireless option, the market isn't getting any more hospitable, however.

"It's like the perfect storm and they are launching their ship," Entner said. "1994 would have been a much better time to launch a wireless carrier."