T-Mobile strikes back in feud with Dish over CDMA shutdown

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T-Mobile said terms of the CDMA sunset were part of an intensely negotiated arrangement between T-Mobile and Dish – one that was reviewed by the FCC and DoJ. (Getty Images)

T-Mobile is slamming Dish Network for what it calls a “false narrative” over its plans to shut down Sprint’s old CDMA network.

The feud surfaced when Dish revealed in February that T-Mobile had informed them that it was going to shut down the CDMA network on January 1, 2022. Dish was under the impression that it had up to three years, at least, to migrate Boost Mobile subscribers currently on the CDMA network to new handsets that work on T-Mobile’s newer network, or until July 2023.  

Last October, T-Mobile informed Dish that it was going through with the shutdown about a year and a half earlier than Dish expected. T-Mobile says it’s all contractually legal, whereas Dish says it’s anticompetitive and a result of T-Mobile’s “greed.”

RELATED: Dish says T-Mobile isn’t being very ‘un-carrier’

Dish, which acquired Boost and its 9 million customers last year for $1.4 billion, is crying foul because it asserts T-Mobile could poach Boost prepaid customers, or Boost customers will simply lose service because their CDMA handsets won’t work on the new network. 

T-Mobile doesn't see it that way. The work that it's undertaking right now involves the migration of all legacy Sprint customers, both those who are retained by T-Mobile and those who were divested to Dish.

“We are migrating all of T-Mobile’s CDMA customers – a much larger number of customers – on exactly the same timelines as Dish’s Boost-branded customer base,” T-Mobile told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an April 11 filing. “This belies any suggestion that it can’t be done on a timely basis or that sticking with our agreed-upon timeline is somehow anti-competitive.”

The move from CDMA to the new T-Mobile network will give Dish’s Boost customers access to an advanced, high-speed broadband network - a far better experience than CDMA, which can’t meet expectations for today’s 911 location accuracy and provides no backup in the event of outages, T-Mobile pointed out.

“The public commentary recently instigated by Dish is founded on a false narrative that T-Mobile has deviated from its previously stated network integration plans by accelerating the sunset of the legacy Sprint CDMA network,” T-Mobile stated. “In reality, the facts are that the CDMA sunset timing and responsibilities have long been established contractually by the parties in an agreement that was freely negotiated more than a year and a half ago,” and reviewed and approved by the FCC and Department of Justice (DoJ).

“Dish – which enjoys a reputation as a shrewd negotiator and hard bargainer – unambiguously agreed to assume responsibility for the migration of its customers from CDMA to the new T-Mobile network and the timeframe in which T-Mobile could sunset the network,” T-Mobile stated.

T-Mobile insists that it provided Dish with 14 months’ notice of the shutdown, which is more than the contractually mandated six months, and offered to implement a low-cost VoLTE/Multi-Operator Core Network (MOCN) solution to extend the life of an estimated 800,000 handsets by an additional six months. 

“Unfortunately, Dish appears to have taken minimal steps to begin migrating its customers and has declined T-Mobile’s offer to implement this short-term VoLTE/MOCN solution,” wrote T-Mobile SVP of Government Affairs Kathleen O’Brien Ham in the filing. “Dish adamantly insisted it would not close the transaction until T-Mobile furnish, at closing, unique capabilities to migrate Boost customers to the new T-Mobile network using widely available VoLTE-compatible phones. Subsequently, Dish has under-utilized that capability.”

T-Mobile went on to add that Dish actually has been adding a substantial number of new customers onto the CDMA network each month and has extended the end date for new legacy Sprint network activations from January 1, 2021 to June 1, 2021, “despite the fact that ceasing new CDMA activations would be a very simple step to take to move toward a timely migration.”

T-Mobile also has argued that network transitions like this are hardly unprecedented in the wireless industry. What’s unique about this is the federal government mandated that T-Mobile divest the Boost business to Dish, then offer network services to Dish in an MVNO arrangement while Dish builds out its own 5G network. 

According to Dish, T-Mobile stated in a July 2019 SEC filing that it would divest its 800 MHz spectrum to Dish, pursuant to the DoJ-approved plan, three years after the closing of the Boost divestiture, with a two-year lease back option.

"No matter how T-Mobile tries to spin it, the simple fact remains: a shutdown of the Sprint CDMA network on January 1, 2022 is an attack on low-income consumers,” said Boost EVP Stephen Stokols in a statement provided to Fierce. “T-Mobile’s accelerated shutdown of the CDMA network is motivated by greed, runs counter to the promises the company made to the government, and can only be explained as an anticompetitive action designed to undermine Dish as the nation’s fourth wireless carrier, harming consumers in the process.”

Rival Verizon, he added, has “taken the pro-consumer step” of keeping its CDMA network operational until January 2023, one year longer than planned.  

“T-Mobile used to be the ‘uncarrier’ that fought for customers. But, following its acquisition of Sprint, the combined company has transitioned to a ‘heartless’ behemoth. When it was seeking merger approval, T-Mobile promised regulators it would do all it could to make it possible for Dish to successfully migrate the divested Sprint prepaid customers to the New T-Mobile network. Now that T-Mobile is recouping tens of billions of dollars in profits from its merger with Sprint, it has decided to break its own commitments. Contrary to T-Mobile’s claims, a forced migration of this scale in just 264 days is simply not possible and will potentially leave millions of Boost subscribers disenfranchised and without cell service come January 1, 2022,” Stokols said.

“T-Mobile’s decision is especially cold hearted at a time when Americans are suffering under the stresses imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as chipset shortages remain across the globe, and key manufacturers like LG have decided to exit the handset market,” he said. “As a result, Dish will continue to fight for the three year migration timeline (until 2023) T-Mobile committed to multiple times under oath to regulators.”

T-Mobile ended its message to the FCC by saying it will continue to provide assistance as Dish complies with its responsibilities. "The message to Dish must continue to be: honor your agreement, take care of your customers and go do your job."