Never let it be said that Dish has modest ambitions. The TV provider's latest proposal involves using tiny satellites to help deliver future mobile broadband services from space.
Dish submitted a perspective paper in September to one of the major bodies helping to define the fifth generation (5G) of wireless technology. In it, Dish suggests using a mixture of small satellites in space and a mobile network on the ground to get the speed and coverage needed for 5G.
Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) has never made a secret of its wireless ambitions. The company has bought up swathes of radio spectrum in the US that it could use for a cellular network. It has also pushed ahead with a WiFi strategy of late. (See $35B+ Spectrum Auction Dings Verizon, Shines Dish and Dish Delivers New WiFi Set-Tops.)
That's what makes the 5G proposal it set before the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 's September meeting interesting. The 3GPP is currently holding meetings and getting a myriad of papers from operators and others as it starts to nail down what 5G will be. Dish proposes that the industry could use a hybrid system incorporating satellites and a network on the ground to deliver 5G services.
The fifth generation (5G) wireless specification isn't yet defined but is -- at the highest level -- expected to deliver data at Gigabit-per-second rates over the air. This would make them tens of times faster than current 4G services and allow users to download a full HD movie to their phone in minutes in the future. Initial 5G networks are expected to arrive in 2020. (See Ericsson CTO: Artificial Intelligence Will Make 5G Smarter.)
Enter Dish with the 5G from space angle: "Overlay satellite based systems are well suited for cost effectively implementing many 5G use cases," Dish writes in its perspective on 5G paper for the 3GPP.
Dish states that there are misconceptions about what satellite technology can deliver for 5G networks. Essentially Dish says that satellites will be capable of delivering two-way communications to support 5G.
A hybrid ground and space 5G network would use small satellites that each use a "spot beam" to provide a dedicated area of two-way coverage on the ground. This is different than the old model of using one satellite with a single beam to provide a one-way service like a TV broadcast over a landmass.
Dish argues that newer, smaller satellites, equipped with the latest multi-antenna arrays (MIMO) would allow for "ubiquitous connectivity through hybrid satellite and terrestrial networks," the operator writes. In this model, satellites could connect areas that it would be hard to network otherwise like mountains and lakes.
Regular readers might remember that an ambitious startup called LightSquared tried a similar strategy several years ago. It ran into fears that its satellite service, using L-Band spectrum, would interfere with the existing satellite-based GPS location system, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stepped in and stopped the planned network. (See Is LightSquared's Spectrum Worth $3.3B?.)
The answer to that is to get the satellite industry invested in 5G too, Dish suggests. "Many of the bands above 6 GHz are heavily used by satellites and government services, requiring sharing with incumbents," Dish writes in the paper. It suggests getting the satellite industry involved in the process by developing a common cross-network radio interface for 5G.
"A single radio standard allows flexibility to the devices to choose the best access link for connectivity based on required service," Dish writes.
As noted, Dish also has something LightSquared didn't -- plenty of earthbound spectrum to use on its own, or share with partners, to provide radio bandwidth for a future terrestrial 5G network. (See Hey Big Spenders! AT&T, Dish & VZ Splash Cash on Spectrum.)
The 3GPP "noted" the paper for a decision in a future meeting.
Light Reading reached out to Dish for a comment on its potential 5G ambitions. The operator hasn't yet responded.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading