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Dish's Ergen: Our spectrum could be used for 5G, but we're unlikely to build out new network

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Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) Chairman Charlie Ergen said that the company's spectrum holdings could be used to build out a 5G offering, but he cautioned that Dish is unlikely to build out its spectrum holdings to create a fifth nationwide wireless network in the United States.

"The nice thing about the spectrum build-out is I think that's interesting is we're starting to spend a lot more time looking at 5G because you're probably -- realistically when you look at our spectrum being used, it's most likely to be used in a 5G format by however it gets used and however it gets built out, and so those timelines kind of match up," Ergen said on Dish's quarterly conference call with investors, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the event. "You're seeing a lot of people talking about it now and testing it, and you'll see it at the 2018 Olympics, I mean, 5G, it's not likely that we would build out interim spectrum in 4G."

Ergen added that 5G is going to be "10 times, 100 times, 1,000 times more efficient" than existing LTE networks. "If you're going to build them, build it with the latest and greatest [spectrum], particularly when you get those kind of efficiencies," he said.

When questioned whether Ergen expects to see another nationwide player challenge tier-one U.S. wireless carriers Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile US and Sprint, he said he doesn't expect that to happen.

"I don't personally see a fifth operator in the United States unless it was something like a neutral hosting where the existing carriers could use it. So, in other words, it wasn't competitive with the -- the competitive balance is pretty good," he said, adding: "But I don't personally think you could start a fifth network unless you are somebody -- at least Dish couldn't. I mean, somebody of scale could, right? These companies that have money overseas that they could buy AT&T and Verizon tomorrow. So the world could change."

During the call Dish executives also confirmed the company filed an application to participate in the FCC's upcoming 600 MHz auction of TV broadcasters' unwanted spectrum, but declined to comment on the company's plans for that event.

Dish owns roughly 75 MHz of nationwide mid-band spectrum, though based on the company's stock price following its earnings report investors are only valuing that spectrum portfolio at around $0.80/MHz-POP, according to the analysts at New Street Research.

While Ergen's comments about Dish's spectrum are interesting, he has made similar comments during previous Dish earnings conference calls. Meantime, speculation remains rampant about what Dish will eventually do with its spectrum holdings; most analysts believe the company will eventually sell its spectrum to a major wireless carrier like Verizon.

For more:
- see this Seeking Alpha transcript
- see this SNL article

Related articles:
As Dish's TV business struggles, company's spectrum valued at just $0.80/MHz-POP
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AT&T pushes FCC to deter 600 MHz auction defaults
Analysts: Dish could strike a spectrum deal with Verizon or a perpetual leasing agreement