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Dish grumbles to FCC about T-Mobile's CMDA shutdown plan

Having already aired concerns about T-Mobile's purported plan to shut down its CDMA network in early 2022, Dish Network has now taken its beef with the decision directly to the FCC.

In a letter (PDF) to the FCC on Thursday, Dish urged the FCC to take a closer look at T-Mobile's plan to shut down a part of the network that's still being used to support Dish's Boost Mobile customers. Tied to T-Mobile's merger with Sprint, Dish acquired the Boost Mobile business from T-Mobile last July.

Dish's letter follows word that T-Mobile intends to shut down its 3G CDMA network on or around January 1, 2022, about three years sooner than its previously announced migration timeline. Dish, which is also pushing ahead with a buildout of its own 5G network, is upset about the potential disruption because a majority of its 9 million Boost subs customers still get service through a CDMA network formerly operated by Sprint.

"A forced migration of this scale under this accelerated time frame is simply not possible and will leave potentially millions of Boost subscribers disenfranchised and without cell service come January 1, 2022," Dish explained in the latter. "This is especially the case given significant device/chip shortages that make it even more difficult to acquire compatible replacement devices prior to the shutdown."

Dish questions why T-Mobile is in such a hurry, noting that Verizon has delayed its CDMA network shutdown plans three times, at last settling on year-end 2022. Verizon also delayed those plans despite having only about 1% of its mobile customers on that part of the network, Dish said.

T-Mobile: Plan is 'exactly consistent' with Dish deal

In an emailed statement, T-Mobile defended the phasing out of 2G/3G technologies across the wireless industry as "a natural evolution" toward 5G, while holding that nothing in its plans run afoul of its agreement with Dish.

"In T-Mobile's case, this transition is essential to the creation of the ultra-high capacity 5G network we have committed to deliver for customers and to the government," T-Mobile said. "We all want to make sure no customers are left behind, and we are following a tried and true process to achieve that goal. Everything we are doing here is exactly consistent with the agreement that DISH made with us a year and a half ago, and we have been very proactive and transparent about the timing for this transition with all of our MVNOs, including DISH."

To further that point, T-Mobile said its notice to Dish in October 2020 regarding the January 2022 transition timing provided "far more than the required 6 month contractual agreement," and that the agreement makes it clear that Dish is responsible for migrating Boost customers, just as T-Mobile is responsible for migrating Sprint customers. T-Mobile also countered that only a "small percentage" of Boost customers should need to upgrade handsets by the end of 2021.

Dish questions T-Mobile's motives

Dish, of course, doesn't share that view. Dish chairman Charlie Ergen made note of these concerns during the company's Q4 2020 earnings call in February. "We view it as anticompetitive. It's as simple as that," he said. "I can't speak to their [T-Mobile's] motivations. One of the beneficiaries of premature turnoff of the CDMA network would be T-Mobile."

Stephen Stokols, who now heads up Dish's Boost Mobile business, told Light Reading that Dish expected to have more time to transition affected Boost subs to T-Mobile's 5G network through natural churn and upgrade cycles.

"We have to artificially intervene ... to move customers over," Stokols said.

Nonetheless, Dish believes the clock on the shutdown is running faster than originally expected while also questioning T-Mobile's underlying motives.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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