3GPP approves Band 70, allowing Dish to combine three spectrum blocks

The 3GPP formally approved Band 70, just as satellite TV provider Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) said it would.

Band 70 comprises Dish's current AWS-4 spectrum (2000 MHz to 2020 MHz), its H Block downlink spectrum (1995 MHz to 2000 MHz), and unpaired AWS-3 uplink spectrum (1695 MHz to 1710 MHz). The 3GPP agreed to the specifications three weeks ago; formal approval will enable the development of devices and infrastructure supporting Band 70.

"Band 70 packages what would otherwise be underutilized spectrum, paving the way for an ecosystem to better serve consumer demands for downlink," said Tom Cullen, Dish executive vice president of corporate development, in a press release. "We appreciate the hard work of the 3GPP to approve Band 70 three months ahead of the anticipated timeline for the band, and with the inclusion of carrier aggregation six months ahead of schedule. The expedited work results in a second approved asymmetric band that includes a greater proportion of downlink spectrum relative to uplink, enhancing the overall utility of the spectrum as the growth of video and other downlink-intensive traffic continues to increase."

Dish said two weeks ago that it expected Band 70 to be approved before the end of June, surprising some industry insiders who thought the move would come later in the year. The approval could enable Dish to divvy up its spectrum assets for sale once the end of the incentive auction of 600 MHz is complete, which could occur in just a few months.

"By pairing what was auctioned as uplink-only spectrum with its excess downlink spectrum, Dish has materially increased the usability of that spectrum and therefore its value. Dish was uniquely positioned to execute on this plan based on its existing assets. While the process was lengthy, it will have tangible benefits to the industry as spectrum previously thought of as unusable can now play a critical role in providing additional wireless data capacity," Walter Piecyk of BTIG Research wrote in a research note two weeks ago. "We believe this spectrum can fully utilize densified wireless networks, including small cells, a benefit that low band spectrum does not share."

Verizon (NYSE: VZ), AT&T (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile are "possible and interested buyers" for Dish's spectrum, Piecyk continued in the note, and the airwaves could conceivably be used by a player such as Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) or Facebook (NASDAQ: FB). Dish executives have sought to partner with or acquire an existing wireless carrier to leverage its airwaves, according to BTIG, and could secure a deal by the end of the year if the FCC's ongoing incentive auction ends as anticipated.

"In as little as three months and likely not longer than six, Dish will be able to re-engage in strategic discussions because of the conclusion of the incentive auction," Piecyk wrote. "The official banding of its spectrum and lack of sizable spectrum alternatives leaves few if any hurdles for Dish. We believe investors should own the stock before that happens."

For more:
- see this Dish Network press release

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