Satellite TV provider Dish Networks is planning to build a 5G network from the ground up that will provide both IoT connectivity and low-latency broadband service. And its network will incorporate the latest technologies like virtualization and network slicing.
Speaking to investors last Friday, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said the company is building a nationwide 5G network. The first phase of that network will deliver narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) services and will be finished in 2020. The second phase will be a 5G network based upon the not-yet-released 3GPP Release 16 standard. That standard, often referred to as “standalone 5G,” is intended to allow operators to launch a 5G network without requiring an underlying 4G network.
Ergen said Dish’s advantage is that it doesn’t have legacy 3G and 4G networks to contend with unlike traditional wireless operators like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Instead it can build the network from scratch using state-of-the-art technologies like virtualization and network slicing.
But Dish is under pressure to complete that first phase of its 5G network by March 2020 in order to fulfill the requirements of its wireless spectrum licenses. The company has spectrum it won in spectrum auctions (it was awarded AWS-4 spectrum in 2013) and through acquisitions (in 2012 it purchased spectrum in the 2 GHz range from bankrupt TerreStar Networks and DBSD North America). Specifically, the company has to deliver coverage to 70 percent of the population in the 176 markets where it has AWS-4 spectrum licenses by March 2020.
During the company’s second quarter earnings call, investors questioned Dish’s ability to meet that goal. Some of Dish’s spectrum is in the 600 MHz band, and existing holders of those 600 MHz licenses (TV broadcasters) have until July 2020 to clear that spectrum. Ergen admits that Dish is hampered by that factor, but he is confident the company’s plan to start with a NB-IoT network first and then progress to a standalone 5G network later will work. “Everything comes together in 2020 for us to build a modern network,” Ergen said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the company’s investor call.
Ergen also noted that while U.S. wireless operators like AT&T and Verizon are touting the fact they will have 5G deployed in some markets beginning later this year, they will not have a full 5G platform. “The competitors will start building hybrid networks, but they’re not going to get a full 5G platform without ripping out what they already have,” he said.
Dish did provide investors with an update on its NB-IoT plans. Tom Cullen, head of corporate development with the company, said deployment of the NB-IoT network will begin in the fall, and the company has a team of employees dedicated to working on the network.
Dish previously revealed that it expects to spend between $500 million and $1 billion on wireless through 2020. But Cullen declined to reveal the number of towers and cell sites Dish plans to have in place to meet the company’s 2020 buildout goal.
Nevertheless, Dish will face stiff competition in the NB-IoT arena. T-Mobile US in July launched a nationwide NB-IoT network using equipment from Nokia, Ericsson, and Qualcomm. In addition, Verizon has said it will build a NB-IoT network this year. And AT&T has said it will launch NB-IoT in 2019.