Charter’s Winfrey: 5G ‘Not Comparable’ to DOCSIS 3.1

CFO says wireless companies are ultimately going to have to go through cable operators to make technology work
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Chris Winfrey

Chris Winfrey

Charter Communications CFO Chris Winfrey is not in the camp that suggests that upcoming fixed 5G services from wireless operators represent an “existential threat” to the cable industry.

“I don’t see anything about 5G that ever makes it comparable to DOCSIS 3.1 or DOCSIS 3.1 Full Duplex, or any capability we have through fixed line service,” Winfrey said, speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference Thursday.

“When I look at 5G and what it takes to deliver 5G, when it finally becomes real … we have it,” Winfrey added, noting that cable companies have vital infrastructure that wireless operators will need to fully deploy the technology.

In order for 5G to work, he added, "you have to be relatively close to the home with fiber, and you need to have power. And to replicate that without cable infrastructure, you really need to be a cable over-builder…I don’t see any rationale for someone to do that.”

Speaking on a wide variety of subjects, Winfrey said the summer launch of Charter’s new mobile service, Spectrum Mobile, was really just a soft launch.

“The marketing machine didn’t get turned on until Tuesday,” he said, noting that the bulk of activations in the third quarter will have come after Labor Day, when the wireless service finally got deployed across Charter's footprint.

Winfrey reiterated Charter’s position that mobile, first and foremost, fills the role of helping Charter more effectively bundle and sell fixed-line broadband services. “We think it’ll result in more internet and more connectivity going into the home,” he said.

Winfrey conceded Charter’s desire for “core control” of its MVNO deal with Verizon, which is the foundation of Spectrum Mobile. But he said that 80% of the traffic for the service occurs over Wi-Fi. Over time, he explained, a portion of the 20% of traffic that is handled by leasing network services from Charter will be handled by services enabled through licensed and unlicensed spectrum.

Meanwhile, while also addressing the topic of video, Winfrey also described an existential theme that relates to connectivity.

“Video does matter to what we do in internet and mobile and overall package of connectivity services,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter if we lose or grow video subscribers. I can’t name one mobile operator not trying to get into the video space.”

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