5G and Beyond

Dish Network making tower crews 'very busy' nationwide

Cell tower operators around the country report plenty of work coming from Dish Network.

"Dish is coming online in the form of entirely new leases, and they are very busy," said Jeffrey Stoops, CEO of cell tower operator SBA Communications, during his company's quarterly conference call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.

SBA reported second quarter financial results far above most Wall Street expectations. Partly as a result, the company raised its financial guidance for the full year 2021.

The reason? Lots of demand from Dish and Verizon.

"I would say that the ones that had kind of a step function changes in their levels of activity were Dish and Verizon," Stoops explained.

Dish is preparing to switch on its network in Las Vegas sometime in the next few months, though it has sought to tamp down expectations for a speedy 5G service.

Does that mean Dish's tower efforts are mostly focused on Las Vegas? Not really, according to SBA's Stoops. "We are seeing a fair spread to the geography," he said in response to a question on the topic.

SBA's Stoops isn't the only executive in the cell tower industry seeing interest from Dish.

"At the end of the second quarter, we had a backlog of 160 open orders related to upgrades of existing [tower] tenants or the addition of new tenants, including 15 applications from Dish as they begin to build their national 5G network in our market," Ed McKay, COO of Shenandoah Telecommunications Company, said on the company's recent earnings call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. Shentel offers broadband services across mostly rural parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Executives from American Tower and Crown Castle – the two other big cell tower operators in the US, alongside SBA – also said Dish is beginning to ramp up its demand for cell towers.

"We do believe that Dish's intent is to build the network substantially in the US," said American Tower CFO Rod Smith, according to Seeking Alpha. However, the company doesn't expect significant revenues from Dish until next year.

Dish's interest in towers might not necessarily represent a windfall for cell tower technicians. According to a report in Wireless Estimator, a publication that closely tracks the US cell tower industry, Dish is trying to keep its expenses low. The prices Dish is offering, according to one contractor who spoke to the publication, are "barely enough to keep payroll flowing."

But on LinkedIn, Dish executives have been boasting of their work to light up cell towers around the country, from Detroit to Houston to Orlando.

The physical, network-construction portion of Dish's 5G network strategy falls on Dave Mayo, a former T-Mobile executive who joined Dish early last year. According to comments on LinkedIn, his executive team is divided into four different regions across the US headed by Nichole Thomas, Mike McGovern and Todd Wilson. The company appears to be hiring for a West region leader.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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