Dish HQ sports network build-out countdown clock

DENVER—Almost every single Dish Network employee is reminded every day that the company is rushing to enter the wireless industry, thanks to a countdown clock installed at the entrance to the company’s headquarters here.

The clock—which is synced with similar clocks on Dish’s corporate intranet and one in its Washington, D.C., offices—shows the time left for Dish to finish “phase one” of its wireless network network build efforts.

Specifically, in a little under 500 days, Dish needs to offer NB-IoT wireless network services across much of the United States. That March 7, 2020, timeline would potentially satisfy the FCC’s build-out requirements on Dish’s spectrum.

Dish’s build-out countdown clock is the latest indication that the satellite TV company is serious about entering the wireless industry, first through an NB-IoT network and then, ultimately, with a 5G network.

Dish founder Charlie Ergen stepped down from his role as CEO to focus on building the company’s wireless business late last year. And in February, Dish laid out its wireless plans: The company said it will spend between $500 million and $1 billion through 2020 building out the “first phase” of its wireless network. The company said it would deploy an NB-IoT network initially and would potentially build out a 5G network later—as part of phase two—as standards for that network are made available. Then, in May, Ergen put a price tag on that full 5G network: $10 billion.

Dish has spent roughly $20 billion over the past decade amassing a significant spectrum portfolio stretching from 600 MHz to AWS-4. Today, the company owns roughly 95 MHz of low- and midband spectrum, according to the Wall Street analysts at Cowen, which valued those holdings at about $30.2 billion.

Most analysts expected Dish to eventually sell those spectrum holdings to a major wireless network operator; Verizon was often fingered as a possible buyer due to its relatively paltry spectrum holdings compared with its massive customer base. However, Dish’s executives have made it increasingly clear that Dish does in fact plan to embark on a greenfield network build-out that would essentially position Dish directly against the likes of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. Dish’s countdown clock is another indication that the company is serious about its efforts.

Not surprisingly, some analysts continue to believe that Dish won’t be successful in its wireless network build-out efforts; indeed, T-Mobile already operates a nationwide NB-IoT network like the kind Dish hopes to finish more than a year from now.

“Dish is hoping to put off a major investment as long as possible, hoping that somehow the value of spectrum will head north again. I would advise them to give it up,” wrote Mobile Experts analyst Joe Madden this summer. “Now, it’s time for Charlie Ergen to make a deal with a cable company.”