Sprint, Dish to launch trial of fixed TD-LTE service on 2.5 GHz in mid-2014

Sprint (NYSE:S) is partnering with its erstwhile suitor Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) on a trial of fixed wireless broadband service. This is the second such trial Dish has engaged in; the first was with Sprint wholesale partner nTelos Wireless.

Sprint and Dish said they plan to jointly develop and deploy a fixed wireless broadband service on a trial basis in Corpus Christi, Texas. The service will be available in the middle of 2014, but the companies did not give a more specific timeline than that. Sprint and Dish said the service will initially be available in limited areas of Corpus Christi, but that they plan to expand into additional markets in the future.

Dish will install either a ruggedized outdoor router or some kind of an indoor wireless solution to deliver the best possible service, depending on a customer's location, the companies said. However, the companies said both solutions will feature "built-in high-gain antennas" to receive TD-LTE signals on Sprint's 2.5 GHz spectrum, which it acquired from Clearwire.

"This trial with Dish has great potential as it combines the key capabilities and assets of both companies to provide another option to customers with limited broadband access," Michael Schwartz, Sprint's senior vice president of corporate and business development, said in a statement. "This demonstrates Sprint's ongoing commitment to identify and develop new and innovative products and services that maximize the use and utility of our spectrum and flexible network infrastructure to the benefit of customers and shareholders."

Much remains unknown about the proposed Sprint/Dish service, including when it will launch exactly and how much it will cost for users. Additionally, it's unclear why the companies are working together now or how they might work together in the future.

Sprint spokesman Scott Sloat said Dish is still developing pricing and specific customer offerings at this point.

Dish spokesman Bob Toevs reiterated that and told FierceWireless that Dish expects that information will be available in mid-2014. He declined to say how many markets the service might expand to. Toevs also said that the planned Sprint/Dish service is a separate effort from the work Dish is doing with nTelos.

In late October, Dish and nTelos said would commercially deploy a fixed TD-LTE broadband service in four markets in Virginia in early 2014. The companies could expand their partnership beyond that, depending on how the trial goes, nTelos CEO James Hyde told FierceWireless at the time.

Dish and nTelos said they will launch the service in markets where they have a high concentration of customers: Roanoke, Staunton, Waynesboro and Charlottesville, Va. The footprint could potentially cover up to 500,000 POPs. nTelos has a total wireless footprint covering 6 million POPs.

In June, Dish first revealed it was working on the service and said that its technicians would install BandRich ruggedized outdoor routers with built-in high-gain antennas to receive the LTE signal. The service uses nTelos' 2.5 GHz BRS spectrum, at 2496 - 2690 MHz, which is exactly the same spectrum that Sprint now owns via its acquisition of Clearwire. Dish said it partnered with Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) to activate two wireless tower test sites during phase I of the service, but Hyde said nTelos has not publicly disclosed which vendors will support phase II, and said there are "other vendor partners that we may work with."

Hyde said that although tests produced speeds of 20-50 Mbps and sometimes higher, average real-world speeds on a fully loaded network will be around 5 Mbps. Hyde said that nTelos and Dish were not yet ready to reveal the pricing for their service. "We will target a couple of different price points and a couple of different pricing structures," he said in October. Hyde said the service might be sold as a standalone service or bundled with nTelos' wireless service or Dish's satellite TV service.

Dish tried and failed to gain control of Sprint and Clearwire this spring, before Japan's SoftBank acquired Sprint and Sprint bought Clearwire. However, Dish controls more than 40 MHz of spectrum, including 2 GHz AWS-4 airwaves, and is likely to be the lead bidder in the FCC's Jan. 22 auction of the 1900 MHz PCS H Block. Dish is also trying to gain control of LightSquared's L-Band spectrum. Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen has repeatedly said Dish would like to partner with an existing wireless company to expand its wireless efforts.

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