Dish accuses Sprint of glossing over spectrum issues

Dish Network and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) continue to spar over proposals to shift Dish's MSS S-band spectrum by 5 MHz, with Dish accusing Sprint of glossing over critical issues related to its spectrum and LTE deployment plans.

In a filing with the FCC, Dish blasted a previous Sprint filing, arguing that "Sprint's silence on the key timing and interference issues related to any changes to the AWS-4 band plan underscores that there is no public policy benefit to Sprint's self-serving proposals."

Earlier this year the FCC voted to explore how the S-band of MSS spectrum, which the FCC has renamed "AWS-4," should be designed so that the satellite spectrum can be repurposed for terrestrial use. Dish currently owns 40 MHz of S-band spectrum--specifically from 2000-2020 MHz and 2180-2200 MHz. Dish hopes to launch an LTE Advanced network with its spectrum by 2016, but is awaiting rules from the FCC on its spectrum as well as word on whether the FCC will shift its holdings at 2000-2020 MHz up 5 MHz to 2005-2025 MHz. Dish has argued repeatedly against such a shift.

In the new filing, Dish said that Sprint's assertion that substantial 3GPP standard-setting work will be needed for the AWS-4 band regardless of whether there is a 5 MHz shift is misleading, and that a shift would require new standard-setting work.

Sprint has said that a 5 MHz shift would help its LTE operations by freeing up more PCS spectrum for auction. Sprint is currently using the 1900 MHz PCS G Block for its nascent LTE network, which allows it to deploy 5x5 MHz channels. However, Sprint has made clear it would like to get access to the adjacent PCS H Block, which would give it the ability to deploy 10x10 MHz channels. Wider channels result in faster speeds and more capacity.

However, Dish said that the FCC's ability to "auction the H Block for robust LTE operations is constrained by a number of technical and operational issues. Sprint's suggestion that the H Block is ready for immediate wireless broadband use grossly simplifies those challenges and is contrary to the concerns of numerous stakeholders in this proceeding."

Some of these issues may get hashed out next week at the PCIA conference in Orlando, Fla., where both Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will give keynote addresses. One big question is whether Dish will announce a partnership with an existing wireless player, perhaps Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR), which some analysts think may have received a one-time $396 million investment from Dish.

"If an announcement does come next week, then it will also come as a major shock to most wireless industry observers, because almost no attention is being given to the possibility of a tie-up between Dish and Clearwire," TMF Associates analyst Tim Farrar wrote in a blog post. "However, this may be the last chance for Dish to pressure the FCC not to shift their uplink spectrum, and a major announcement of network plans could tip the scales in their favor. As a result, I suspect that Ergen's speech could well contain an announcement of a network deal, a partnership or perhaps even both."

For more:
- see this FCC filing
- see this TMF Associates post

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