Charter’s Rutledge touts 5G future of self-driving cars, mobile VR

Tom Rutledge
Cable’s top executives continue to stake bold early claims in the emerging era of 5G networking technology.

Cable’s top executives continue to stake bold early claims in the emerging era of 5G networking technology.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank 2017 Media & Telecom Conference Monday, Charter Communications Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge chest-thumped his MSO’s leadership position in 5G, noting, "We have 700,000 miles of infrastructure out in the streets and byways in front of 50 million homes and businesses.”

RELATED: Kia mobility chief: 5G being baked into self-driving car plans

Rutledge suggested a paradigm in which drivers—well, passengers really—wear VR headsets behind the mostly inert steering wheels of self-driving vehicles. 

"It's hard to imagine driving around with virtual reality devices on," Rutledge said. "But I don't think that's the first application.”

Rutledge’s comments will undoubtedly stir the investor boil over a speculative merger between Charter and Verizon, with the No. 1 wireless company seen as covetous of the cable company’s network infrastructure and the head start it could provide in terms of building out a fully actualized 5G service. 

"I think, competitively speaking, we have the best infrastructure today,” Rutledge added. 

RELATED: Charter’s Rutledge: Millimeter wave an opportunity to ‘connect malls and other things to the enterprise space’

On the same stage, Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit also touted his company’s 5G potential.

“I think of it as having two components,” Smit said: “One is advanced technology primarily in the intended space as well as higher frequency bandwidth. Both of them come with pros and cons. I think with the advanced technology and the antenna it travels the short distances that frequency does and it’s going to require a lot of small cells, a lot of space, a lot of power, a lot of backhaul. We’ve been doing backhaul for a number of years, and we feel pretty good about that business.” (A transcript of Smit’s talk was provided by Seeking Alpha.)

“With regards to the propagation properties of the higher frequency it doesn’t propagate walls very well, or trees or other obstacles and so we think there is going to be,” Smit added. “In order to get it effectively into the home, an antenna is required to be mounted on the house to get the propagation through the house that’s required.

“We’ve had two outside independent experts come in and kind of look at our fiber network plans with and how they all relate with the 5G and we see a lot of compatibility there, excellent compatibility. It’s kind of uncanny,” Smit also said. “And so we feel good about our plant being able to service the 5G and the growth of our fiber network, we’re bringing fiber deeper everyday in the business services base especially and we think we’ll have one-year capacity to service the needs of the 5G technology.”