Dish 'confident' its IoT strategy can meet FCC's build-out requirements

Charlie Ergen, CEO of Dish Network
Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen

Dish Network believes that its plan to launch a narrowband IoT network will enable it to meet the FCC’s build-out requirements for its spectrum, according to Jefferies Equity Research Americas. But it may need some help.

Dish continues to sit on a significant pile of midband spectrum, but the clock is ticking for the company to put its airwaves to use one way or another. FCC rules stipulate that the satellite-TV provider must reach a 70% build-out by March 2020, and Dish faces similar mandates for its licenses in the AWS-4 band.

“We do not believe that it serves the public interest or makes business sense to build out a 4G/LTE network now that would duplicate networks already offered by the wireless incumbents, and subsequently require an almost immediate upgrade in order to be competitive,” the company wrote in a March filing with the FCC. “Instead, Dish plans to deploy a 5G-capable network, focused on supporting IoT—the first to be deployed in these bands anywhere in the world. … This network will not be burdened with a requirement to be backward-compatible with legacy services.”

The company’s front office continues to pursue that strategy, Jefferies analysts said, even if the spectrum the company won at the incentive auction isn’t freed up as quickly as it had hoped. But it may still need to partner with a company that has the wireless experience—and the deep pockets—to help it bring its proposed service to market.

“While some frustration was evident regarding the timing of 600 MHz availability, and the legal case still ongoing for AWS-3, management was confident that the IoT network build will be successful, and meet the 2020 build-out requirement for AWS-4 and the E block,” Mike McCormack of Jefferies wrote following Dish’s quarterly earnings results this week. “Dish is planning for a future 5G build that is unencumbered by legacy architectures, and expects that on a five-year horizon it will deploy the most advanced 5G network among its peers, though made it clear that it may take partners with technical and financial strength to bring it to fruition.”

The looming question, then, is which company—or companies—Dish might partner with to bring its proposed IoT offering to market. Rumors earlier this week had Dish merging with Sprint, but MoffettNathanson was quick to opine that such a tie-up “would bring no benefit to Sprint whatsoever.” Other candidates for a Dish partnership include T-Mobile, which has made no secret of its desire to add to its midband spectrum holdings, or a cable company looking to leverage the burgeoning internet of things.