"We have a lot of work to do to execute," acknowledged Dish Networks' Tom Cullen in comments at this week's virtual Incompass trade show. "The next year is critical."
Cullen – the longtime shepherd of Dish's 5G strategy – explained that Dish's next steps will involve inking an agreement with a cloud provider like HPE, Oracle, Amazon, Google or Microsoft that can host its virtualized network functions in a cloud. He also said the company will work on lining up other necessary vendors, including cell tower providers, for its promised 5G network.
"We'll do some intermediate testing in a small market or two" later this year or early next year, he added.
Perhaps the most noteworthy agenda item mentioned by Cullen at Incompass is the custom radios that Dish is buying from Japan's Fujitsu. Cullen said those radios – which will sit atop Dish's towers and broadcast its 5G signal – are scheduled to start arriving "in earnest" in the second quarter of next year.
"We certainly expect to be disruptive," he said of Dish's planned open RAN network.
Cullen said that Dish's 5G efforts have been complicated by the pandemic. He said Dish officials have been negotiating with vendors both virtually and in face-to-face meetings, but have been doing so with masks and social distancing. "COVID has been challenging, certainly," said.
And critical negotiations are "difficult to do remotely," he added.
But Dish has already crossed off several major agenda items in recent weeks. The company's $1.4 billion purchase of T-Mobile's prepaid Boost Mobile business closed in July, and since then the company has inked 5G supply agreements with the likes of VMware and Nokia.
Dish also bid for roughly $1 billion worth of midband 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum licenses across the country, indicating that the company's hunger for spectrum knows no bounds.
Finally, Dish has also recently passed through several regulatory hurdles, having obtained FCC approvals for its newly revised spectrum buildout deadlines and finalized the details of its 600MHz spectrum leasing agreement with T-Mobile.
Now the company is moving toward its Department of Justice-mandated goal of building out its AWS-4, lower 700MHz E block and AWS H block spectrum licenses across at least 70% of the US population by June 14, 2023. Dave Mayo, a former T-Mobile executive, is in charge of that physical buildout.
"We have a very ambitious schedule in front of us," Cullen said.