Dish nabs FCC approval for wireless network

The FCC voted unanimously to approve Dish Network's plans to use its MSS S-band spectrum for terrestrial use, an action Dish has been pushing for during the past year. Dish has said it plans to build out an LTE Advanced network by 2016. However, reports indicate that Dish will be required to use a portion of its spectrum at a lower power level than it had originally wanted, a position Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) had pushed for.

At the same time, the FCC also approved plans to auction the PCS H Block, which sits next to Dish's spectrum and which Sprint has indicated it wants to bid on next year to use for LTE. 

It is unclear when the FCC will release the technical details of the order on Dish' spectrum, which is known as the AWS-4 band. "We accomplished this by removing regulatory barriers that limited this spectrum to satellite use," FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun said in a statement. "Carefully balanced technical requirements will unlock tremendous value in both the AWS-4 band and the 10 MHz H Block, which Congress directed us to auction."

According to several reports, including in the Wall Street Journal and Multichannel News, which cited unnamed sources, Dish will be required to a restrict a portion of its airwaves to protect against interference to the H Block. A source close to the process told FierceWireless that the agency approved FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposal for lower power limits for a portion of Dish's spectrum. 

Dish's 40 MHz of spectrum specifically runs from 2000-2020 MHz and 2180-2200 MHz. Congress has mandated the FCC auction the H Block of spectrum by February 2015, and Genachowski indicated in his testimony prepared for a congressional hearing on Wednesday that the FCC will auction it next year. The H Block is paired spectrum from 1915-1920 MHz and 1995-2000 MHz. Sprint has said repeatedly it supports Dish's plans but wants to protect both the PCS G Block and H Block from interference. Sprint and Dish have been tussling over the power limits for Dish's spectrum, with Sprint indicating they need to be lower to protect the H Block form interference and Dish arguing for more lax rules. 

Both Dish and Sprint praised the FCC's decisions. "The commission has taken an important step toward facilitating wireless competition and innovation, and fulfilling the goals of the national broadband plan," Jeff Blum, Dish's senior vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a statement. "Following a more thorough review of the order and its technical details, Dish will consider its strategic options and the optimal approach to put this spectrum to use for the benefit of consumers."

Dish now must decide exactly what it wants to do with the spectrum. Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen has indicated multiple times that he might be forced to sell the spectrum even if Dish received a waiver for terrestrial use, which it now has. Ergen has also said repeatedly that Dish would look to partner with a wireless carrier to build out its proposed LTE Advanced network. A recent Bloomberg report indicated Sprint and Dish have talked about a spectrum-hosting arrangement, in which Dish's spectrum would run on Sprint's Network Vision network architecture, allowing Dish to defray the costs of building a network. The Journal reported that the FCC's rules for Dish's spectrum mandate that it build out at least 70 percent of the new network within six years. Previous reports have indicated discussions between Dish and Google.

Sprint also had kind words for the FCC, especially the news on the H Block, which Sprint hopes to pair with the PCS G Block to create a 2x10 MHz nationwide LTE network. Larry Krevor, vice president of government affairs at Sprint, said in a statement that the FCC "has made a balanced and equitable decision to adopt rules for the AWS-4 spectrum band that enable it to support innovative, competitive terrestrial wireless broadband services. At the same time, the commission has moved forward toward auctioning the adjacent H Block spectrum. Sprint is especially encouraged that the commission has indicated that it intends to hold the H Block auction next year."

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Multichannel News article

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