Dish's Ergen frets over missing his wireless window, rules out Verizon deal

Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen reiterated he is worried that regulatory delays in rules for Dish's 40 MHz of MSS S-band spectrum will cause the company to miss its opportunity to get into the wireless market. 

Dish is waiting on final rules from the FCC for the 2 GHz S-band of MSS spectrum, which the FCC has renamed "AWS-4." The FCC is expected to issue final rules on the terrestrial use of the satellite spectrum by year-end.

"If the timing is too soon, you spend a lot of money and sometimes you run out. If timing is too late, the market runs away from you," Ergen said in an interview with Bloomberg. "There always has to be an option to exit the business if we're not able to get into the business on time, and that window is closing." Dish received approval from the FCC in March to get access to the mobile satellite spectrum, but the FCC did not grant it a waiver to offer terrestrial-only services on the airwaves, pending its final rules. Ergen said he may have to sell the spectrum even if he gets the waiver.

Ergen reiterated that Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile USA owner Deutsche Telekom remain companies that Dish might try and partner with to build out its proposed LTE Advanced network. He told Bloomberg he would prefer not to have to sell the spectrum to a company like AT&T (NYSE:T), but would do so if there were no better options. Interestingly, he ruled out a deal with Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) because of Verizon's decision to buy $3.9 billion worth of AWS spectrum from a group of cable companies, resell the companies' services and allow them to become MVNOs on its network.

"They made peace with cable, and we're not a peace company," Ergen said. "It just wouldn't be any fun."

Dish paid $2.78 billion in 2011 for its spectrum in bankruptcy proceedings, and the company has said it expects to launch its planned LTE Advanced network sometime in 2016.

Meanwhile, Dish and Sprint continue to spar over whether Dish's spectrum holdings will be moved by 5 MHz when the MSS rules are finalized. Dish has argued strenuously against such a move, while Sprint has said a shift will allow it more flexibility to bid on and use the PCS H Block of spectrum for LTE, which is adjacent to Dish's spectrum holdings. Sprint also wants interference protections for its operations in the PCS G Block.

Sprint said it supports Dish's plans to use its spectrum for terrestrial use, but Sprint does not want to lose interference protection. "Dish seemingly wants to have its cake and eat it too--it wants the commission to adopt a change from MSS/ATC secondary use to primary terrestrial broadband use in the S-band, but seemingly without adopting the common sense technical rules necessary to ensure that the AWS-4 licensee and adjacent spectrum licensees and users can co-exist while making maximum use of this spectrum.," Sprint wrote in a recent FCC filing.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Wireless Week article

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