Dish Will Spend $1B on First Phase of Wireless Buildout

Dish Network will spend up to $1 billion on Phase One of its planned wireless network buildout, reaching at least 70% of its licensed territory with a narrowband IoT offering that will transform the satellite TV company into a business that offers full connectivity.

The network will make its debut in time for Dish to meet a March 2020 federal deadline to make the wireless network available to at least 70% of its licensed territories, part of the requirement for obtaining the licenses in the first place. But Dish chairman Charlie Ergen said its wireless offering won’t be a simply cellular and data network, instead offering connectivity across platforms and devices and supporting the “Internet of Things.”

“This is where the world is going,” Ergen said on a conference call with analysts to discuss Q4 results. But the chairman added that there are still roadblocks to clear on the path toward the buildout, most notably resolving issues with the Federal Communications Commission regarding the AWS-3 spectrum auction. In 2015 the FCC had ruled that two designated entities – Northstar Wireless and SNR Wireless LicenseCo – were controlled by Dish and therefore ineligible for bidding credits they received in the auction. But in January of this year, the FCC said it would give the companies a chance to restructure their relationships to come into compliance with federal rules.

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“The DE situation because it ‘s not resolved yet, is another factor that ties our hands a little bit, because we don’t control that spectrum; our uplink spectrum is probably not the ideal spectrum we’d like to use,” Ergen said. He added that products adhering to 5G standards probably won’t come on the market in time “for us to deploy the broader network in Phase Two that we’d like to.”

Ergen said that satellite will play a role in the new offerings, adding that the plan is to provide connectivity for people and devices. He pointed to a recent purchase – Parkifi, which makes parking sensors for parking lots – as an example.

“It’s a bit new to us,” Ergen said. “It reminds me of when we first wanted to build satellites in 1990 when we never built a satellite. We got there because we’ve got a great dedicated team that’s passionate about doing it and we put our hearts and souls into doing it and that’s what we’re doing with wireless.”