US pay TV provider Dish Networks announced in May that it has selected enterprise software stalwart Oracle to enable a service-based architecture to undergird its 5G networks. Oracle will be enabling a number of network functionalities that will be critical to Dish’s ability to eventually offer thousands of network slices to enterprises and consumers across its network.

Oracle now joins an impressive list of vendors that Dish has signed up to help build out what it believes will be unique 5G capabilities within a US market which is increasingly saturated with various flavors of 5G from the three major operators – Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Since originally announcing plans to build a 5G network in 2019, Dish has entered into a host of vendor agreements, notably signing on Crown Castle in November 2020 to lease space on up to 20,000 towers and supply supporting fiber backhaul assets.

The race is RAN for Dish

The company has also secured tower lease commitments from American Tower and aligned with Amazon Web Services for cloud connectivity, Fujitsu for optical equipment, Palo Alto Networks for network security software, and VMware for virtualization software and expertise. Dish has also been an active proponent of open RAN, which – while as yet largely untested – promises to revolutionize 5G radio technology over the next few years.

Dish has also signed several high-profile executives directly from industry to lead its wireless initiatives. These include former T-Mobile 5G lead architect Dave Mayo, who now heads up Dish’s network development; and the former head of Nokia’s radio unit, Marc Rouanne, who now serves as Dish’s Chief Network Officer. Dish has committed to an initial buildout beginning this quarter in Las Vegas, with plans for a commercial launch in Q3 2021.

Clock is ticking on network build

However, given Dish’s history in wireless, many industry observers will remain skeptical until an actual network gets built. The company first obtained wireless spectrum in 2008, but has famously managed to build almost nothing wireless since then. In 2017, Dish had committed to building a 5G IoT network with the first phase to be launched in 2020. However, Dish took the opportunity of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger – which included Dish buying Sprint’s Boost Mobile prepaid business – to convince the FCC to relax its buildout requirements.

As a result of the revision, Dish is now required to build out service covering 75% of its licensed population by 2025. That gives Dish CEO Charlie Ergen four years to scheme up a way to avoid yet another buildout requirement if he wants to.