Report: Google, Dish in talks to launch wireless network

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Dish Network held talks in recent weeks about collaborating on a wireless broadband service, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The news represents the latest twist in Dish's winding road toward building a wireless network.

The report, citing unnamed sources familiar with the situation, said that the talks are not advanced and might not amount to anything. Dish is also talking with other companies about partnerships, and has indicated for months that it wants to work with another company, preferably another wireless carrier, to launch its network. Google declined to comment, according to the report. 

In an interview with the Journal, Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen declined to comment on Google specifically, but said some of the company's potential partners might be those "who would like to be in the industry" and currently are not wireless carriers. He reiterated, as he has in the past, that it would be easier for Dish to work with a wireless carrier that had its own network.

The speculation comes as Dish continues to wait for the FCC to finalize rules for the terrestrial use of MSS spectrum; those rules are expected to come by year-end. Dish controls 40 MHz of MSS spectrum in the 2 GHz band, which the FCC has renamed AWS-4. Dish received approval from the FCC in March to get access to the mobile satellite spectrum, but the FCC did not grant it a waiver to offer terrestrial-only services on the airwaves, pending its final rules. Ergen has bemoaned what he describes as a sluggish regulatory process, a situation he has said might force him to sell the spectrum.

Dish paid $2.78 billion in 2011 for its spectrum in bankruptcy proceedings, and the company has said it wants to launch an LTE Advanced network sometime in 2016. Working with another company would demonstrate to the FCC Dish's commitment to building a wireless service, the WSJ report noted.

For Google, working with Dish would represent a further move into a wireless business dominated by wireless carriers. Google currently sells its unlocked Nexus-branded Android devices directly to end users without carrier subsidies, but has yet to see major traction from that business. Google also played a role in the 700 MHz spectrum auction in 2008 but did not end up winning any licenses.

The WSJ report also comes just after Dish announced that the 3GPP standards body approved standards governing the AWS-4 band, especially with regard to interference protection between the band and the PCS G Block, which Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) is using for its LTE service. Sprint accepted Dish's proposal on the interference issues with the G Block.

Dish and Sprint have been sparring over the interference protection, as well as whether the H Block of the PCS band will be auctioned. Dish does not want the FCC to shift its spectrum holdings by 5 MHz to address interference issues between the G Block and H Block, which Sprint wants to bid on to use for LTE service (Congress has mandated that the FCC auction the H Block). Sprint has said it supports Dish's plans, but does want any weakening of interference protections for the G Block and wants the H Block to be auctioned.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this release
- see this FCC filing

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