Dish to build NB-IoT network to meet FCC's deadline

Dish Network will launch a narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) network to meet the FCC’s buildout requirements for its spectrum, according to a filing with the agency.

The clock is ticking for Dish to put its airwaves to use one way or another. FCC rules stipulate that the satellite-TV provider must achieve 40% signal coverage on the 700 MHz E-Block licenses it purchased in 2008 by the end of the month, or reach a 70% buildout by March 2020. And Dish faces similar mandates for its licenses in the AWS-4 band.

“Under the Commission’s rules, Dish has two buildout paths for its spectrum licenses: meet an interim milestone in March 2017 and a final milestone in March 2021; or, meet an accelerated final milestone by a March 2020 deadline,” the satellite TV provider said in the document (PDF), which was initially spotted by Walter Piecyk at BTIG Research.

“We do not believe that it serves the public interest or makes business sense to build out a 4G/LTE network now that would duplicate networks already offered by the wireless incumbents, and subsequently require an almost immediate upgrade in order to be competitive. Instead, Dish plans to deploy a 5G-capable network, focused on supporting IoT – the first to be deployed in these bands anywhere in the world…. This network will not be burdened with a requirement to be backward-compatible with legacy services.”

Dish said it will continue to explore partnership opportunities, however, and is “open to exploring joint build partnerships” to reduce deployment costs. Piecyk noted that building a dedicated 5G network could be far less expensive than deploying an LTE network from the ground up to compete with legacy carriers in the market for traditional consumer wireless services.

“Earlier this year we estimated that Comcast could build out a meaningful portion of its footprint for less than $2 billion,” Piecyk wrote. “A NB-IoT buildout on Dish’s licensed spectrum could cost a mere fraction of our Comcast estimate based on the feedback Dish received from an RFI (request for information) that was sent to dozens of vendors in late 2016. As Dish exits the quiet period of the FCC ongoing spectrum auction, which has prevented strategic discussions for 14 months, it could partner with an existing operator, tower company, cable operator or technology company to further reduce those initial buildout costs.”

Indeed, Piecyk said Dish’s spectrum might be best used as part of an existing network of an active wireless operator.

Dish CEO hinted at the company’s plans during an earnings call with analysts last month, suggesting that its proposed network would focus on IoT-type use cases. An all-IP network will be cheaper to build and operate than more traditional networks, Ergen said, paving the way for Dish to meet the deadline.

“There’s going to be a really fundamental shift in wireless technology with 5G, and you’re reading a lot about it. Because it brings lower latency, a lot faster throughput, enables Internet of Things, in particular narrowband Internet of Things for massive internet activity,” Ergen said two weeks ago. “So in other words, we can build a network that’s completely an IP network, take advantage of all the 5G technologies, and also take advantage of the core, for example, so that, well, the smarts are in the cloud instead of being on the tower.”