Despite pesky skepticism from industry analysts and some recent prodding by the FCC, Dish is steadfastly confident that it can meet its service and buildout commitments for wireless spectrum.
Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) stressed that it's "on track" to complete the first phase of a 5G-capable network, initially supporting narrowband Internet of Things services, by March 2020, and then proceed with the more significant phase of its buildout. (See Is Dish Really Ready to Be a 5G Player?)
In its 10-Q filing, Dish noted that, as of June 30, it has struck deployment services agreements, master lease deals and contracts toward the development and deployment of towers, wireless radios and chipsets that are tied to the first-phase buildout.
But the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) apparently is not fully convinced, as the filing also showed that the agency issued a letter to Dish on July 9 inquiring about Dish's progress and if it thinks it can still meet the March 2020 build-out milestones. Dish also acknowledged that there's "no assurance" that the FCC will find its buildout plan, including the first phase of it, sufficient to meet the build-out requirement.
Speaking on today's Q2 earnings call, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said the FCC inquiry about the buildout is "unusual" and allowed that there originally was a "high degree of skepticism" that a business case can be made for a narrowband IoT network. But he said that such doubts are now unfounded, given all the work occurring there now among such US carriers as Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), T-Mobile US Inc. and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), as well as in other parts of the globe.
"I think it's now recognized that narrowband IoT is, in fact, a major contributor to the world moving forward," Ergen said, adding later that Dish is uniquely positioned to build a standalone 5G network as other carriers go forward with hybrid 4G/5G efforts. "It would be hard to be skeptical of IoT today… This is going to happen," Ergen said.
Ergen admitted that Dish's plan is a "big project," but noted that Dish faced similar skepticism years ago with its original satellite TV project and yet was able to pull it off. So, maybe everyone should consider Dish's track record.
He also said the timing of everything, including Dish's future plans for a more comprehensive wireless network, is not solely under Dish's control. With respect to critical uplink spectrum to be used in the 600MHz band, for example, it won't be fully cleared by the broadcasters until July 2020.
Dish is currently hampered in this regard because it only has 5MHz of upstream spectrum, and will need that additional capacity to be cleared before it can build a "massive broadband network," Ergen said. "Everything kind of comes together in 2020 for us to build a modern network."
Back to phase one, the narrowband IoT network, Dish expects deployments to start "in earnest" this fall, Tom Cullen, Dish's EVP of corporate development said. He pointed out that this part of the buildout is already funded by cash on the company's balance sheet.
Ergen also dumped cold water on persistent suggestions that Dish should just sell its spectrum, holding that Dish is committed to the network buildout because 5G is critical to the company's future. (See Time May Have Run Out for Dish Buyout.)
"We see that [5G] is the long-term of how this company is relevant 30 years from now," he said. "That's a tough transition and tough on investors to be patient while you do that."
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading