The DISH 5G network will be key to the company’s success or failure in the US wireless sector. The company’s planned cloud-native, Open RAN-based 5G network will provide it with cutting-edge technical capabilities that can enable a host of use cases.

However, the company has already fallen behind schedule. DISH initially promised to launch 5G service in a major US market by end-2020. It backed off that plan but pledged to start 5G service in some smaller markets during Q1 2021. When that didn’t happen, DISH then moved back the date again, promising to have 5G service operating in a major market in Q3 2021.

Now DISH’s latest pledge is to finish building out 5G in its first major market – Las Vegas – during Q3 2021, enabling it to launch a minimum 90-day beta trial during Q4 2021, leading to a 2022 commercial service launch in so called ‘Sin City’.

DISH needs to differentiate

The consumer services side of wireless is highly saturated, and it is unclear what DISH’s unique selling proposition (USP) for its as-yet-unbranded 5G network will be. DISH has been operating as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) since July 2020, when it acquired Boost Mobile, and it has since acquired two more MVNOs – Ting Mobile and Republic Wireless. It is unclear whether DISH has any radical wireless service offerings in mind for its eventual 5G customers. So far, DISH’s MVNO operations are not straying from the traditional wireless playbook, which is not providing DISH with notable differentiation.

However, the company has signalled an interest in delivering fixed wireless access (FWA) for broadband internet. In August 2021, DISH became a board member of the HomeGrid Forum, where it intends to become involved in the development of G.hn technology. The forum has noted that G.hn technology could support 5G FWA coexistence with satellite TV on existing coaxial cable wiring delivering multi-Gigabit speeds.

Additionally, DISH’s network could be capable of supporting new B2B use cases based on the synergies between 5G and edge computing. DISH might find the most opportunity in supplying services for enterprises and SMBs or providing wholesale network access to MVNOs providing Internet of Things (IoT) services to vertical industries.

The clock is ticking – again

But DISH will need to build out a robust network footprint before it can bring any of these possibilities to fruition, and that likely won’t happen for a couple of years. DISH has promised the FCC that it will cover at least 20% of the US population with 5G by June 14, 2022, and 75% of the population by June 14, 2025.

First things first, however. DISH needs to launch its 5G beta trial and subsequently initiate commercial service on its Greenfield network, a mission the company has already found is rife with challenges.