Dish strikes $1B+ deal with Samsung for 5G vRAN

The deadline for Dish Network to launch a 5G network is fast approaching. On Tuesday, Dish and Samsung Electronics announced a multi-year agreement – valued at over $1 billion – whereby Samsung will supply open radio access network (RAN) and virtualized RAN (vRAN) solutions and radio units in markets across the U.S.

Dish was set up to serve as the nation’s fourth facilities-based wireless carrier as part of the government’s approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger. It’s building a 5G network from scratch, with an emphasis on open, cloud-native and virtualized RAN. It’s already missed several targets, but the company insists it’s on track to launch by its June deadline.

As for Samsung, its networks division is supplying Dish with 5G and RAN solutions, vRAN software and a variety of open RAN radio units, including Massive MIMO radios, according to a press release.

Asked about the length of the contract, a spokesperson for Samsung said only that it’s a “multi-year contract valued at over $1 billion USD.”

“Samsung’s 5G solutions will play an integral role in our network expansion, giving us the flexibility to deploy our cloud-native network with software-based solutions that support advanced services and operational scalability,” said Dish Wireless President and COO John Swieringa in a statement. “We look forward to working with Samsung, whose industry leadership in vRAN and O-RAN innovation will help support our vision of delivering open, interoperable cloud-based 5G services to consumers and enterprises across the U.S.”

According to Samsung, its vRAN can operate on any commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) server while still delivering performance on par with traditional hardware-based equipment. The Samsung radios will support all of Dish’s Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) and Time Division Duplex (TDD) spectrum bands, including 600 and 700 MHz, AWS bands, 3.5 GHz (CBRS) and C-band at 3.7 GHz.

“Samsung is excited to join this 5G journey with DISH, a pioneer in bringing new experiences to households and businesses around the country, leveraging openness and virtualization that sit at the heart of network evolution,” said Mark Louison, executive vice president and head of the Networks Business, Samsung Electronics America, in a statement. “Our advanced 5G vRAN and radio solutions bring telco-grade quality and cloud-based agility together, building on these benefits to enable more customers to experience the full value of commercial 5G Open RAN.”

Dish previously said it’s also using radios from Japan’s Fujitsu and Taiwan-based manufacturer Microelectronics Technology Inc. (MTI).

Samsung handsets in the mix

Besides network gear, Dish is lining up 5G devices from Samsung as well.

Dish said its collaboration with Samsung will extend to retail wireless customers, providing them with leading-edge 5G devices today and in the future.

However, after this story first published, a Samsung representative clarified that this transaction is only about Samsung's 5G network vRAN solutions and radios. While Dish is testing its 5G network using the Galaxy S22 and will continue selling Samsung devices to its retail customers, no handset devices are included in this new $1 billion+ deal, he said. 

“Together, we’ll create solutions to bring Dish Wireless’ smart network to life for retail and enterprise customers, enhancing their productivity, enriching their connection to people and smart technology, improving their business operations and giving our customers control over their 5G services,” said Stephen Bye, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Dish, in a statement.

Dish hasn’t announced a commercial launch but that will happen in the coming weeks, Bye told Reuters. The company is “well on track” to achieve its coverage objective, he said.   

Dish has been offering mobile services through the Boost Mobile business, which it acquired as part of the conditions of the T-Mobile/Sprint transaction. That’s being done through an MVNO arrangement, so the 5G network build is a separate endeavor. Through Boost, Dish sells a variety of handsets, including from Apple, Samsung and Motorola.

In February, Dish said it planned to turn up service in 25 major markets and 100 smaller cities ahead of its June buildout deadline. Under commitments to the FCC, Dish needs to cover 20% of the U.S. population with 5G by the middle of this year and expand its reach to 70% by June 2023.

Dish has had its 5G network in Las Vegas up and running for a while now, but it’s just for friendly users serving as beta testers. It was originally going to launch service there in the third quarter, but the timelines were pushed back multiple times.

Editor's Note: This story was updated May 4 to clarify this deal does not include handsets.