5G and Beyond

Dish slates 90-day beta as Las Vegas 5G launch gets pushed to Q4

Dish Network's initial 5G network launch in Las Vegas is now expected to go forward in the fourth quarter of 2021, about a quarter later than expected. And the company anticipates it will run a beta trial for at least 90 days there before pushing ahead with a commercial launch in Sin City, possibly in early 2022.

Dish will have construction activities in Las Vegas "substantially complete" within the next 60 days and prior to the end of Q3 2021, Dave Mayo, Dish's EVP of network development, said Monday on Dish's Q2 2021 earnings call.

"I think we'll be in beta for a minimum of 90 days," said Charlie Ergen, Dish's chairman, noting that the initial network launch there will feature Dish's 5G core being placed in the cloud.

Most of the traffic for the trial will run on Dish's 5G network. But Ergen noted that the added integration of AT&T's network in the wake of the recently signed network deal between Dish and AT&T, alongside work already underway to tie into T-Mobile's network, is one of the reasons for the anticipated length of the Las Vegas trial. However, he expects most of the usage in Las Vegas to run on Dish's network and be complemented by AT&T's network.

Dish has yet to announce pricing and packaging for the Las Vegas beta trial and beyond. "We will have a retail presence and we will have offers for consumers that we think will be competitive," said Ergen. Dish is already seeking testers through its "Project Gene5is" sign-up site.

Those beta testers, likely to include some Dish employees, will provide feedback that Dish can apply in Las Vegas and in other market buildouts. "It's not going to be perfect, first day," said Ergen. "If we do our jobs correctly and our vendors do [their] jobs correctly, then we're going to be ready for prime time at the first of the year."

5G buildout update

Bigger picture, Dish has commenced construction on close to 30 "geographies" within the four regions and 36 markets being targeted via the company's decentralized approach, said Mayo. Much of that early market activity centers on where Dish is collocated with tower companies.

"In that regard we've signed substantially all of the leases that are required to meet our 20% mandate for next June and have received notices to proceed on close to one-third of the sites," said Mayo, noting that, in some cases, there are multiple geographies within a market that are being targeted.

Execs also offered a bit more color on the new AT&T deal, including possible activities centered on Dish's spectrum. Stephen Bye, EVP and chief commercial officer for Dish's wireless business, confirmed that the deal does enable AT&T to deploy Dish's spectrum for all customers on its network.

And while the deal does help Dish get coverage in some rural areas, it doesn't change or remove Dish's 5G network buildout obligations, said Bye.

Rural chatter

Dish also confirmed that the company has held talks with other carriers to help fill gaps in its rural footprint that are not covered by AT&T or T-Mobile. "We've had a number of conversations," said Bye.

"You can imagine that a part of our rural strategy would be to work with those people that are already in rural America," Ergen added.

Ergen also allowed that it's "plausible" that Dish could work with enterprise customers to help finance some of the 5G buildout, particularly among those that would use slices of Dish's 5G network to power private networks.

"We're seeing significant traction and interest today in private networks and private 5G networks, and the architecture we're deploying really enables a level of control and a much deeper layer of security that allows the enterprise to utilize that network for their own business operations," said Bye, adding that Dish is already responding to multiple requests for proposal and requests for information on such concepts.

The hospitality industry, which is already being served by Dish for TV services, are among the kind of enterprise verticals that might take advantage of Dish's coming private 5G network capabilities, added Bye.

Dish has not announced a fixed wireless broadband effort attached to its coming 5G network, but Ergen said he wouldn't rule it out amid ongoing government-backed subsidy efforts focused on unserved or underserved parts of the country.

"I think fixed wireless is a place where the wireless industry can go," he said, citing Verizon's and AT&T's activity there. The amount of money being plowed into infrastructure is a "positive for all connectivity companies," Ergen added.

As for its existing prepaid business coming largely from the acquisition of the Boost business from T-Mobile, Dish lost 201,000 subscribers in the period, fewer than the -254,000 expected by analysts, but more than the -132,000 expected by New Street Research. Dish ended the quarter with 8.89 million retail wireless subs.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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