Dish's Ergen: We'll need more spectrum

ORLANDO, Fla.--Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen said his company will eventually need to get access to more than its 40 MHz of 2 GHz S-band spectrum if it wants to compete with the likes of Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T).

dish network charlie ergen


After delivering a keynote speech at the PCIA wireless infrastructure conference here, Ergen said Dish will need more spectrum if it wants to compete with carriers like AT&T and Verizon that each have 100 MHz of spectrum total. He did not say how Dish plans to get more spectrum but indicated that it would look to partner with a company that had more low- or mid-band spectrum. In May, Ergen said Dish has enough spectrum to start its wireless business, but he seemed to be indicating here that longer term it would need more spectrum resources to be a disruptive force in the market.

Ergen reiterated Dish's desire to partner with another wireless carrier for its LTE Advanced wireless network buildout. He said that sharing cell towers, backhaul and other infrastructure makes sense. "If somebody wants to do that we're probably going to be a very good partner," he said.

Ergen said Dish plans to do what it did as a pioneer in the video and content delivery business and deliver a better product at a cheaper price than existing wireless carriers. Without going into specifics, he suggested that Dish might be able to give customers access to their satellite TV feeds on their mobile devices, or allow customers to connect to satellite service when cellular networks are unavailable. Ergen also suggested that the wireless market is not close to being fully penetrated thanks to connected devices and machine-to-machine opportunities available in the years ahead. 

However, Ergen cautioned that the wireless bet is not a sure thing. "We may end up having to sell the spectrum," he said. "We're not suicidal." He said Dish's preference is not to sell its spectrum but to build out a network that can take advantage of burgeoning wireless data growth. "This is going to be a tough project for us," he said. "But it's not our first rodeo."

Dish is awaiting final FCC rules on the terrestrial use of MSS spectrum, and the company is seeking a crucial waiver to offer terrestrial-only devices. However, Dish has indicated it will move ahead with handsets that use the satellite component of the wireless network regardless of the FCC's actions. Ergen urged the FCC to complete its rules as soon as possible and commended FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and his staff for working so diligently with Dish on the rules.

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.

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