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Dish puts fiber into its 5G diet

Dish Network on Monday added one of the final ingredients into its 5G recipe: fiber. The company said it would purchase fronthaul and backhaul fiber connections from Everstream, Segra, Uniti and Zayo in order to connect 5G cell sites covering around 60 million Americans.

"Today's announcement marks an important milestone in Dish's deployment process, adding to our strong roster of industry-leading tower, radio, software and now fiber vendors," said Jeff McSchooler, Dish's EVP of wireless network operations, in a release. McSchooler is leading the Dish team responsible for the physical construction and operation of the company's planned national wireless network.

Although the company's four new fiber vendors likely won't be sufficient for all of Dish's ultimate fiber needs, they do cover wide swathes of the country. Specifically, Segra said it offers 1 million fiber strand miles mainly in the Eastern US; Zayo counts 13 million fiber miles across much of the US; Everstream offers 15,000 fiber miles mainly in the Midwest; and Uniti counts 1.3 million fiber strand miles across western and eastern parts of the US.

Dish will use parts of those fiber networks to connect its radio units – which typically sit atop cell towers and will broadcast Dish's 5G signals – to its central processing operations, as well as those central locations to the country's wider Internet backbone.

Dish's new agreements with the fiber companies are important because fronthaul and backhaul connections often comprise a significant portion of mobile network operators' overall expenses.

Other major wireless networking expenses include the cost of the physical radios that broadcast signals as well as the towers that host those radios. Dish has already named at least one vendor for both of those areas: Japan's Fujitsu is expected to begin supplying Dish with substantial amounts of radios starting next year, and Crown Castle recently announced a deal with Dish for up to 20,000 cell towers.

Dish is required to construct a 5G network in the US based on its 2019 agreement with T-Mobile and the US Department of Justice. In addition, Dish must cover 20% of the US population by June 14, 2022, and faces additional buildout goals in the years beyond.

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

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