Dish's Ergen steps down as CEO to focus on building wireless business

Charlie Ergen, on screen, speaks at a startup event in Denver last month.

Dish Network’s Charlie Ergen stepped down from his role as CEO to focus on building the company’s wireless business.

Ergen, who co-founded Dish and owns 52% of the company, will continue to oversee the satellite TV company’s efforts to build a wireless network to serve the burgeoning IoT. Dish promoted Erik Carlson to president and CEO from his prior role as president and COO; Carlson will continue to report to Ergen.

“With more than 20 years’ experience at Dish, Erik brings a complete understanding of the business opportunities both Dish TV and Sling TV possess,” Ergen said in a press release. “I have every confidence that under Erik’s leadership our new organizational structure will deliver value for Dish TV and Sling TV and will aid our entry into wireless.”

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The moves come amid a larger front-office reshuffle for Dish: Brian Neylon will move from EVP of customer acquisition and retention to group president of Dish TV; Warren Schlichting will move from EVP of marketing, programming and media sales to EVP and group president of Sling TV, and EVP John Swieringa will succeed Carlson as COO. Also, EVP and CTO Vivek Khemak will join Carlson’s leadership team, and former Walmart executive David Scott was named chief human resources officer.

The satellite TV provider has gradually compiled a significant amount of spectrum via auctions and secondary-market transactions, and it has amassed a particularly sizable chunk of midband airwaves, according to Allnet Insights & Analytics. Earlier this year, Dish outlined plans to build an NB-IoT network using its spectrum to provide connectivity to a wide range of devices other than traditional tablets and smartphones.

The clock is ticking for Dish to put its airwaves to use one way or another. FCC rules stipulate that the satellite-TV provider must achieve 40% signal coverage on the 700 MHz E-Block licenses it purchased in 2008 by the end of the month, or reach a 70% buildout by March 2020. And Dish faces similar mandates for its licenses in the AWS-4 band.

Dish said last month that it expects to sign its first deals with tower companies early next year as it plots its NB-IoT buildout, and it has already finalized deals with multiple vendors of telecom gear.

“We are still focused on the narrowband IoT build as we shared in March with the FCC; had a very good quarter in terms of progress. We’ve finalized contracts with more than one global vendor for radio access equipment and other associated equipment that goes on towers,” said Tom Cullen, Dish’s executive vice president of corporate development, in a November earnings call transcribed by Seeking Alpha.