2019 Rising Star Winner - Dish Network's Tom Cullen

Tom Cullen, EVP of Corporate Development, Dish Network

The FierceWireless editorial team has done it again. We’ve selected a slate of wireless executives who are on the rise. For 2019 we’re doling out the names of our winners, two per day, so that our readers have the time to enjoy reading their profiles. Later this week, we’ll post our popular Rising Stars poll, giving everyone the opportunity to vote for their favorite top executive to watch in wireless.

Tom Cullen appears to be in the right place at the right time. For almost a decade, Dish Network’s EVP of corporate development has been widely viewed as the satellite TV provider’s resident wireless expert. Cullen has worked in telecom and cable for most of his career, and he spent two years working with wireless network operators when he ran a startup that sold interference cancelling technology. He joined Dish in 2006, and since that time the company has participated in every major U.S. spectrum auction.

Now, after aggressively acquiring spectrum for years, Dish is poised to launch a nationwide 5G wireless network. Dish, T-Mobile and Sprint are positioning Dish as the fourth nationwide operator that will enable the U.S. wireless industry to retain its competitive landscape after T-Mobile and Sprint merge.

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RELATED: Dish crafts its plan to become the nation’s 4th US wireless carrier

Cullen expects Dish’s wireless pricing to be “disruptive, day one.” He said he's confident of Dish's ability to disrupt markets, based on the company's history in the satellite TV industry, where Dish was the first to introduce digital video recording and commercial skipping.

"We have a long history of being first," Cullen said. Dish certainly won't be the first to launch 5G, but it could be first to offer some services that 5G will enable.

If T-Mobile and Sprint merge, Dish is set to buy spectrum and prepaid wireless brands from Sprint and access the New T-Mobile network for seven years as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). Cullen said that Dish will not operate as a traditional MVNO for long.

“We start as an MVNO and have a path to pretty quickly get to an infrastructure MVNO, which then provides a guide path to being a standalone mobile network operator,” Cullen said on the company's most recent earnings call. Dish hopes to implement its own converged core network by mid-2020, which will enable it to route its own traffic and retain subscriber information. Cullen told FierceWireless that Dish is already talking to potential vendors who could develop its core network, and will probably settle on a single vendor in the coming months.

Although Dish is already talking to potential vendors about its 5G network, its agreement with Sprint and T-Mobile is not a done deal. A growing group of state attorneys general is challenging the proposed T-Mobile/Sprint merger, and if they succeed in blocking that deal, the Dish deal will presumably fall apart as well. Cullen said that even if that happens, Dish is moving forward with 5G.

"We think that with the amount of capacity we bring into the market there is room for not only supporting the traditional handset, but also enterprise 5G and new use cases, and we envision that to operate on a wholesale basis," he explained. "We are excited to enter the market."

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