Dish will expand VoNR throughout network later this year

NEW ORLEANS — Dish Network plans to expand 5G Voice over New Radio (VoNR), the voice service that runs on its 5G standalone (SA) network, throughout its network in the second half of the year. This will happen once the company meets the FCC’s buildout requirement of providing coverage to 70% of the U.S. population by June 14, 2023.

While speaking during the Connect (X) conference here today, Dave Mayo, Dish’s EVP of network development, said that his team is “busting their tails” to build the network and he is confident that they will meet that June 14 buildout deadline. “It will take 16,000 sites to get to 70%,” Mayo said. “We had 18,000 sites started as of the end of Q1.”

Once Dish has met that 70% coverage requirement, Mayo said the company will then launch VoNR services in the rest of its markets in the second half of 2023. During Dish’s Q1 earnings call with investors last week, Dish Wireless President and COO John Swieringa said that Dish is currently capable of serving 70 million people with its VoNR network through Boost Mobile, which is in a little more than 50 cities.

The company still relies on its mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) arrangements with T-Mobile and AT&T to provide voice services to the rest of its customers and is anxious to be able to serve all its customers with its own voice-based service.

Mayo also reiterated that while Dish currently has about 7 million prepaid customers, the company ultimately wants to migrate those prepaid customers to postpaid, which Dish views as more profitable.  He indicated that the company will launch Boost Infinite, the company’s postpaid service, more widely later this summer.

Interestingly, Mayo also said that Dish is considering launching a fixed wireless access (FWA) product, noting that he views FWA as another application for the network. “Absolutely this is something we are looking at,” he said.

When asked about Dish’s plans to “pause” its network buildout after it hits its 70% buildout requirement, Mayo said that the second half of the year won’t be as capital intensive as the front half of the year but added that the company does still have a lot to do in terms of planning for its next FCC-mandated deadline which requires the company to provide services to 75% of the population in each of the 400 or so Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) by mid-2025. “We won’t take a break. We have lots to do,” he said.

Open RAN – No big deal

When asked about Dish’s experience deploying open RAN, Mayo said that the “biggest learning” for Dish was that the company needed to act as its own system integrator. “We thought the vendors would coordinate, but they didn’t,” he said.

However, he added that once Dish realized it had to act as the system integrator it really wasn’t a difficult process. And he also said that if one vendor had stepped up and acted as an integrator, that would have defeated the purpose of deploying open RAN. “We don’t want someone to take control of it,” he said.