When Dish Wireless announced that it had lit up its first commercial network last week — in Las Vegas — there was quite a bit of derision on Twitter about the sole phone that will initially work on the network. It’s the Motorola Edge+, which costs $899.99.
The Motorola Edge? What about the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy? And what about less expensive phones?
Speaking on the company’s Q1 2022 earnings call, Dish Networks Chairman Charlie Ergen and Dish Wireless President John Swieringa said the limited handset offering relates to its Band 70 spectrum.
Swieringa said, “With respect to handsets, so we're out of the gate with Project Genesis with devices that do not have Band 70. The devices that we're deploying under Genesis and in the early days of our network are X65 Qualcomm devices where we're aggregating Band 66 and 71. We do have Band 70 devices in the labs now, working with all of our major OEMs on that.”
He said Dish expects to be able to start launching commercially with Band 70 devices in late Q3 2022, “and that's really when we can start hitting the gas in terms of loading retail subscribers on the network.”
Analyst Brian Goemmer, president of AllNet Insights, explained that Band 70 is complicated. It’s comprised of half of the AWS-4 downlink spectrum along with the AWS-3 supplemental uplink spectrum (A1/B1 channels). The remaining half of the AWS-4 downlink spectrum is included in Band 66 with the rest of the AWS-1 and AWS-3 channels.
“Nine out of 10 people would have a difficult time understanding what exactly is and is not in Band 70,” said Goemmer.
He said Dish already has spectrum that is compatible with phones such as the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy. Why it’s citing Band 70 as a stumbling block isn’t entirely clear.
Goemmer also said it can sometimes be difficult for carriers to get the big smartphone manufacturers to make devices for their spectrum of choice. He said Sprint couldn’t get its 2.5 GHz spectrum to work with iPhones until China Mobile adopted the use of that spectrum. OEMs like Apple and Samsung want to make sure their devices will see significant customer adoption. “No one else in the world is now clamoring for a Band-70 phone,” he said. “It’s a challenge for Dish to overcome.”
Analysts also questioned Dish about its lack of marketing and retail presence to launch its new network.
Ergen said the company is waiting until it has “a fully loaded bag of tricks, which we do need Band 70. We do need lower-cost phones….You wouldn't hit the gas on that today with one phone that's $899, right?”
He indicated Dish is racing to meet its pledge to cover 20% of the U.S. population with its 5G network by mid June. And other things will have to take lower priority for the time being. He said the commitment relates to data only, and the first offerings will not “be as robust as we'd like.”
“We have FCC obligations that are focused on retail wireless, and they're not focused as much on maybe some of the other things that we think our network does,” said Ergen. “We didn't make the rules. And so, we would probably approach it a little bit different way if it was all P&L.”
Ergen said the “main thing is to get the network up and operating and start to put water through the pipes.”
He has confidence that the innovative aspects of the network – the fact that it’s an open radio access network (RAN) built more on software than traditional wireless networks, will ultimately make it a strong competitor.
Last week, Dish also announced a multi-year agreement with Samsung, valued at over $1 billion, whereby Samsung will supply open RAN and virtualized RAN solutions and radio units in markets across the U.S.
Dish execs have previously said they’ve had to become the systems integrator of their new wireless network, a role they didn’t initially realize they would have to take on.
Swieringa said, the company expects to be able to “plug Samsung into our delivery machine” with many different vendors, and it wants to make sure it doesn’t box itself in.
Dish Wireless Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Bye said Samsung is coming in as a RAN vendor, not a core vendor. “We’ve already completed some initial interop with Samsung software with our existing partners,” said Bye.