Dish casts wide net to vendor community

Dish's plan to build a 5G network is good news for tower owners. (Pixabay)

For more than a decade, Dish Network has circled the wireless business, showing its intent to pounce by steadily acquiring spectrum. The company sprang into action this summer after the U.S. Justice Department approved the T-Mobile/Sprint merger with the condition that the companies sell and lease certain assets to Dish. That deal was approved on Friday July 26, and by Monday July 29 Dish had issued a request for proposals to vendors. 

Tom Cullen, Dish EVP for corporate development, said the RFP was also an RFI - a request for information. "Some things we'll be procuring in the immediate term, others we are getting ideas how to optimize," he said.

Cullen said the document Dish issued to vendors covers everything from the network core to the radio access network to the mobile edge. He said one of the first priorities will be creating a short list of potential core network vendors, and that Dish will probably end up with a single vendor for that piece.

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In addition, Dish is talking to tower companies. Cullen said many of the Sprint towers that T-Mobile will be decommissioning will be of interest to Dish, and that the company will also concentrate its initial network build in places where it will inherit subscribers through its acquisition of Sprint's prepaid brands. Coverage will be more important than capacity because Dish doesn't have a large customer base right now.

"We’re not going to have to worry about capacity in the short term so small cells are less important and macro towers are more important," Cullen said. 

Cullen said Dish will probably be able to minimize the amount of equipment at tower sites by moving baseband processing to the cloud. He said the network will be more cloud-centric and virtual than traditional wireless networks because Dish is building 5G from the ground up instead of repurposing elements of 4G and 3G networks. That's good news for vendors that have not traditionally served the telecom and wireless industry.

"We are casting a wide net," Cullen said. "There are a lot of good ideas out there from players that are not traditional wireless companies."

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One vendor that may have to shift its relationship with Dish is Ericsson. Dish tapped the telecom equipment giant to supply radios, RF design, and core network equipment for the narrowband IoT network that Dish has been working on for more than a year. Now Dish says it expects to have access to T-Mobile's NB-IoT network, and that it will divert resources from the NB-IoT network to 5G. 

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