Dish allocates up to $1B for wireless network buildout through 2020

Charlie Ergen, CEO of Dish Network
Charlie Ergen is heading Dish's wireless efforts. (Image: Dish Network)

Dish Network said it will spend between $500 million and $1 billion through 2020 building out the “first phase” of its wireless network. The company said it would deploy an NB-IoT network initially and would potentially build out a 5G network later as standards for that network are made available.

“Since 2008, we have directly invested over $11 billion to acquire certain wireless spectrum licenses and related assets and made over $10 billion in non-controlling investments in certain entities, for a total of over $21 billion,” Dish wrote in its recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “In March 2017, we notified the FCC that we plan to deploy a next-generation 5G-capable network, focused on supporting narrowband Internet of Things (“IoT”).  The first phase of our network deployment will be completed by March 2020, with subsequent phases to be completed thereafter. We may also determine that additional wireless spectrum licenses may be required to commercialize our wireless business and to compete with other wireless service providers.”

Added Dish: “We currently expect expenditures for our wireless projects to be between $500 million and $1.0 billion through 2020.”

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During Dish’s earnings call with investors today, Dish’s Tom Cullen said the carrier is “making good steady progress on the network buildout.” He said Dish has already engaged with network equipment vendors, tower providers and chipset and deployment companies to build out its NB-IoT network. He said the company has also increased its workforce dedicated to its wireless effort.

Cullen wouldn't say specifically what spectrum Dish is using for its NB-IoT network, but noted that the company's AWS-4 and 700 E Block spectrum licenses have build out requirements. He added that the company’s effort wouldn’t prevent it from entering into a spectrum sale at some point in the future.

Cullen added that, as Dish looks to “phase two” of its network buildout beyond 2020, the company will consider 5G technology. However, he said that a number of factors are working against Dish, specifically that the 3GPP standards organization hasn’t yet approved specifications for a so-called “stand alone” version of 5G.

Indeed, the 3GPP in December approved a “non stand alone” version of 5Ga standard that allows carriers with an existing LTE network to add 5G capabilities to that existing network. However, the 3GPP hasn’t yet approved a “stand alone” version of 5G, which would allow operators that don’t currently operate a mobile network to launch 5G. Dish doesn't currently operate a mobile network. As Cullen noted, the 3GPP is expected to approve that “stand alone” version of 5G later this year, which he said would pave the way for Dish to potentially launch a 5G network.

Wireless is clearly becoming an important element in Dish's overall strategy. Late last year, Dish Network’s Charlie Ergen stepped down from his role as CEO to focus on building the company’s wireless business.