According to a new report from New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin, Charlie Ergen's Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) could acquire the most spectrum of any company--around 60 MHz--over the course of the next year or so. If Dish is indeed successful in acquiring the spectrum, the company would own a spectrum war chest of as much as 100 MHz--positioning the company as a potentially major player in the wireless market.
To be clear, Chaplin's report is pure speculation: None of the carriers has disclosed its exact spectrum plans, and any guesswork on how the situation will play out could be upended by a surprise purchase of any one carrier by another.
Nonetheless, Chaplin explained that his report is based on each company's current market position and executives' public statements.
According to Chaplin's report, Dish likely will be the successful bidder for bankrupt LightSquared, and will therefore add LightSquared's L-Band spectrum to the S-band satellite spectrum Dish purchased in 2011. Further, Chaplin predicted Dish will win the FCC's H Block spectrum auction (Sprint and T-Mobile have already said they will not participate in that auction). And Chaplin said that Dish likely will also acquire some AWS-3 and 600 MHz licenses when the FCC auctions those radio waves. The result, Chaplin said, could give Dish as much as 100 MHz of spectrum ranging from 600 MHz to 2 GHz.
With that much spectrum, Chaplin said Dish could become a major entity in the wireless market. He said the company could become an acquisition target for AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) or Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), or Dish could partner with either Sprint (NYSE:S) or T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS). Any of those scenarios, he said, would disrupt the current balance of power in the wireless industry.
Of course, much could derail this scenario. Chaplin said Dish might not be successful in acquiring LightSquared's spectrum, or AT&T or Verizon could ink a partnership with Dish before the FCC holds its spectrum auctions starting next year. Further, the FCC has not yet finalized its spectrum auction guidelines, and those guidelines might not align with Dish's ambitions.
But one thing is clear: Dish is interested in participating in the wireless industry. Although Ergen failed in his attempt to acquire Sprint and Clearwire this year, he continues to sit on a significant amount of spectrum. He also has made no secret of his ambitions: During Dish's third-quarter earnings conference call, Ergen said Dish has "a lot of optionality" when it comes to its wireless prospects.
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