Dish: Our 5G network is for the good of the U.S.

Dish’s Charlie Ergen said that the FCC should support his company’s efforts to build out a 5G wireless network because it would aid the United States’ technological position on the global stage.

Importantly, Ergen’s comments during Dish’s quarterly earnings conference call came in response to questions about an FCC inquiry into Dish’s spectrum build-out efforts, a move that many industry observers believe may signal the agency’s concern that Dish is hoarding spectrum licenses without a clear plan to put them into commercial use.

"The goal that they [at the FCC] have—to help the United States be the No. 1 in 5G—1and the goal that we have at Dish, is exactly the same,” Ergen said. “And so we're very pleased with that. And in a world where the incumbents are going to have hybrid networks, between 4G and 5G, and in a world where China is building stand-alone 5G networks, Japan is going to build a stand-alone 5G network, for the United States to lead in 5G you're going to have to have stand-alone 5G networks. And so we think we're the company that's best positioned to do that."

Ergen explained that Dish’s plan to use its spectrum holdings is separated into two phases. The first phase involves the company spending up to $1 billion by 2020 to build an NB-IoT network. He said the second phase involves the company using the 3GPP’s Release 16 5G specification to build a “stand-alone” 5G network—a network that doesn’t need to support 4G services. He said Dish’s standalone 5G network would be different than the ones being built by AT&T and Verizon and other established wireless carriers because it wouldn’t a “hybrid” that must also support 4G smartphones.

But Ergen explained that Dish can’t build that kind of 5G network yet because Release 16 isn’t ready yet, and because some of Dish’s spectrum is still tangled up with court proceedings and legacy users.

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As a result, he said Dish won’t be able to start building its 5G network until 2020.

"The FCC is well aware that this company has spent over $20 billion to enter the wireless market,” Ergen noted in a nod to the spectrum licenses Dish has acquired during the past half a dozen years. “That's not someone who is speculating. That’s not a company who is not serious. That is a company who is serious about going out and competing and trying to make this country a better place in connectivity."

"Even the government decided it might be strategically important to have their own government 5G network,” Ergen added, in a likely not to a report earlier this year that the Trump administration was considering the construction of a nationalized 5G network. “If it's strategically important for the government, it certainly makes sense to be supportive of what we're trying to do."