Dish's Ergen touts 'connectivity on an equal basis' at Denver startup conference

Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen, on screen, speaks with Brad Feld (left) and Mark Cuban during Denver Startup Week Tuesday night.

DENVER—The internet of things is about more than just connecting widgets to networks and to each other, Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen said Tuesday. It’s also about providing access for those who might not otherwise have it.

Dish spent $6.2 billion to buy licenses during the auction of 600 MHz that wrapped up earlier this year, far exceeding the expectations of most analysts and adding low-band airwaves to its significant holdings of mid-band spectrum. The company earlier this year outlined plans to build an NB-IoT network to provide connectivity to a wide range of devices other than traditional tablets and smartphones.

But people are also a key component of the IoT, Ergen observed during a discussion Tuesday night during Denver Startup Week.

“Where we are focused as a company is really on the connectivity side,” Ergen said during a roundtable including celebrity investor Mark Cuban and Brad Feld, a venture capitalist based in Boulder, Colorado. “We have a lot of spectrum that we’ve acquired over the years that can be used in a wireless way to connect communities and people and things.”

For that connectivity to be fully leveraged, though, it must be accessible to as many users as possible, Ergen continued. That not only includes consumers in urban areas—a key segment of the emerging IoT market—but also those in outlying areas who may not have reliable access to networks through wireless or fixed-line services.

“For smart cities, that’s going to be an important thing so that you can connect more efficiently regarding street lights or garbage cans or parking tickets or air quality or whatever it’s going to be. I think we can play a role in that as a company and we get excited about that piece of it,” he said. “When you really get into connectivity, as long as everybody has access to that connectivity on an equal basis, then it’s what they do with it…. You don’t want red-line networks where certain people can’t get access to parts of the network when other people can. You’ve got to bring those people together, and then it’s their game and they make of it what you can.”

Ergen’s comments contrast somewhat compared to remarks he made several months ago following the conclusion of the incentive auction. Dish spent heavily to add to its spectrum portfolio primarily in big cities, citing the value of device connections rather than the traditional metric of POPs covered.

“Based on the population, every analyst always quotes megahertz per POP, but the last several auctions we’ve kind of looked at where we think things are going. We looked at it (as) megahertz per thing, not megahertz per POP,” Ergen said in May. “So whether it be streetlights or heart monitors or drones or whatever, we’ve always looked at it as megahertz per thing. And when you do that, obviously, the more densely populated cities are quite a bit of a bargain discount, if you believe our strategy is right.”