US satellite pay-TV operator DISH Network moved a step forward in its plan to build a greenfield 5G network in the US On 30 June.
The company announced a deal with small US firm Altiostar to build a state-of-the-art 5G network that is designed to dynamically scale depending on the type of applications and services being deployed. In particular, Altiostar is a leading advocate of a new approach to cellular radio that relies on software-defined technologies to dramatically decrease operational costs and improve performance.
The Altiostar deal is the latest indication that Dish may actually be serious about its 5G plans. The company announced a similar deal with another American vendor, Mavenir, in April; it also hired a former Nokia mobile networks President, Marc Rouanne, as its Chief Network Officer last fall.
Dish track record doesn’t inspire confidence
However, Dish’s track record in wireless still leaves many skeptical. Most notably, Dish spun its wheels for several years after declaring its intention to build a network designed for Internet of Things (IoT) applications. In 2018, it hired Ericsson to build that network and promised to spend between $500 million and $1 billion through 2020 to build out the first phase of that network. Instead, it scrapped its IoT network build in May, announcing plans to focus on 5G instead.
Dish’s decision to scrap its IoT network came after it was granted additional time by the FCC to utilize its spectrum licenses. Originally Dish was required to build a network that would reach 70% of the US population by March 2020, thus the decision to build out NB-IoT.
With that deadline now extended to June 2023 as part of the complicated, three-way transaction that included the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, Dish chose to focus its attention on 5G instead of IoT.
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5G subscriber base could stall plans
Still, many questions remain about the true intentions of Charlie Ergen, Dish’s Co-founder and Chairman. Ergen has indicated plans to spend $10 billion to deploy 5G, but it is not clear that there is sufficient market demand to support a fourth national competitor.
Dish is slated to acquire approximately 9 million prepaid Boost Mobile customers as part of the three-way transaction, but that is a far cry from the subscriber bases of the three major operators AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.
Meanwhile, existing operators would love to get access to Dish’s significant spectrum holdings, which are only likely to rise in value as wireless demand continues to grow. If so, then the most prudent plan for Ergen might just be to “slow walk” 5G network plans and see what happens.