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Service Provider Cloud

Dish's 5G network architect explains the new Amazon deal

Marc Rouanne, Dish Network's chief network officer, said the company's new agreement with Amazon Web Services (AWS) is more than just a traditional supplier agreement.

"We have a joint vision that we are sharing," he said of the two companies. "That's really what is exciting about this."

Although neither Dish nor AWS provided financial details of their new agreement, the companies did describe the deal as a "strategic collaboration" wherein "both companies will work to transform how organizations and customers, including AWS and Amazon, order and consume 5G services or create their own private 5G networks."

"This is the foundation of our [network] architecture," Rouanne told Light Reading.

For Dish, the Amazon deal is significant. Rouanne explained that Dish will basically put all of its 5G network software into AWS' public cloud. Doing so will allow the company to scale its computing needs up and down as necessary. For example, Rouanne said network usage typically slows at night, and Dish's network expenses will decline then as a result.

He also said Dish will be able to more quickly meet the needs of its enterprise customers. If they want to run their own 5G core inside their own building, they can do that using AWS products like Local Zones or Outposts. Further, Rouanne said Dish will be able to dedicate portions of its network to select applications and customers, separating that traffic out and providing different Service Level Agreements for each network slice.

Rouanne also said Dish will run some of the DU (Distributed Unit) portions of its baseband computing operations on AWS' custom-designed Graviton2 processors. Other DU operations will run on Intel's FlexRAN platform, depending on the configuration of Dish's network in a select location.

The result, according to Rouanne, will be an automated 5G network.

"I think it's the first time in the world that one telco will have access to so much data in order to automate," he said of Dish's planned 5G network in the AWS cloud. "It opens two opportunities. One, for much better service, better resilience, better security, better traffic, better costs. Because it's optimized. But also, when it's automated, the opex [operating expense] ... is getting reduced because we've automated a lot of the tasks. So it has a big impact on opex and the ability to be cost efficient."

A white knight arrives?

Amazon has been rumored as a potential partner for Dish since 2017. Indeed, Dish has long hinted at mystery "partnerships" that would aid the company in its 5G ambitions. However, Dish's Charlie Ergen in February suggested Amazon might not be the kind of "white knight" those rumors implied.

"Ergen appeared to pour some cold water on the idea that a big tech player like Amazon would be a 'strategic partner,' implying that he considered some of the deals struck with companies like Crown Castle were 'major strategic' partners," wrote the financial analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co in a February report to investors. Crown Castle is one of several companies providing Dish with cell towers. "He also suggested that the company did not want to give up its equity since it had the capital to complete the wireless project itself."

Rouanne declined to comment on the persistent rumors of a major Dish/Amazon tie-up.

However, some financial analysts cheered Dish's announcement with Amazon anyway. "Amazon spent 18 months working on the agreement Dish; while it is somewhat disappointing that the announcement did not come with financial commitments (that we know of), we suspect it could lead to a much bigger relationship as Dish scales up the network over time," wrote the financial analysts with New Street Research in a note to investors immediately after Dish announced its AWS deal. "We believe the AWS partnership is a key vote of confidence for Dish's network build, for which the market current gives low odds of success."

What happens in Vegas

Buried in Dish's AWS announcement was news that the company plans to test its 5G network first in Las Vegas in the third quarter of this year. The company previously said it would conduct tests this year, but didn't say where.

Rouanne said "it's a bit premature" to discuss what kinds of speeds and performance metrics Dish's network in Las Vegas would provide. But he said the launch would allow Dish to fine tune its offering.

"I will expect there will be a few things to clean up," he said.

But the launch will be noteworthy considering it will feature a number of cutting-edge technologies that most global 5G operators have only discussed in PowerPoint presentations. If Dish does indeed switch on its 5G network in Las Vegas in the fall, it will rely on open RAN hardware from Taiwan's MTI and Japan's Fujitsu. Open RAN technology promises to allow operators to mix and match products from a variety of suppliers, and represents a major break from the traditional, all-or-nothing approach taken by big 5G network equipment vendors like Nokia and Ericsson.

And the 5G traffic collected by Dish's equipment will then be computed inside of a public cloud, which represents another major break from the traditional design of a wireless network. Operators like Verizon and AT&T have discussed the possibility of running some of their software inside a public cloud, but they have typically preferred to run their network functions inside their own, closed systems.

While Dish undoubtedly faces an uphill battle in building its 5G network – as well as attracting 5G customers – some analysts believe the company could create a meaningful position in the industry.

"Their all-5G network should have a unit cost that is just 25% of Verizon's, which should give them a claim to capture meaningful share of the wireless market that could be worth $100 billion+ over time," argued the New Street analysts.

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

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