Dish’s Dave Mayo talks about ‘audacious’ effort to deploy greenfield 5G network

Dave Mayo, Dish Networks’ EVP of network development, took the job with Dish about nine months ago because he sees it as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to help build a new greenfield 5G network in the United States.

Not only is the company undertaking a herculean task to build an infrastructure-based network across the vast United States, but it needs to do it on an incredibly tight time-line. As part of its commitments pursuant the Sprint/T-Mobile/Dish deal, it’s promised to cover 20% of the U.S. population by June 2022, and at least 70% of the population by mid-2023. 

Dave Mayo
Dave Mayo

Mayo previously was at T-Mobile for 23 years where he last served as senior vice president for 5G and IoT. At Dish he’s responsible for the company’s wireless buildout strategy and deployment of the nation's first standalone 5G network. He called the company’s ambitions and time-line “audacious.”

Since joining Dish he’s had three top priorities: establishing a team; developing radio designs; and striking deals with tower companies.

The first task was to hire the necessary talent at the top levels and create a geographically dispersed team. He recently announced the hiring of four regional vice presidents to lead the network buildout in their respective regions.

Those hires include: 

  • Satish Sharma, regional VP for the West Region. Sharma’s held leadership roles at Sprint and Ericsson.
  • Nichole Thomas, regional VP for the Central Region. She’s had leadership positions at Sprint, Ericsson and SAC Wireless. 
  • Bill Watson, regional VP for the South Region. Watson has most recently been with Mastec Network Solutions, a specialty construction services provider.
  • Mike McGovern, regional VP for the Northeast Region. McGovern was most recently regional VP with SAC Wireless, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nokia that helps customers design, build and upgrade cellular networks.

Mayo said these VPs are now assembling their own teams, hiring development managers and RF managers.

Tower deals

The company’s made a number of tower announcements lately. It’s got a deal with Vertical Bridge to use that company’s portfolio of 300,000 sites, consisting of a variety of towers and other vertical infrastructure. 

It’s got a deal with Crown Castle to lease up to 20,000 of its towers. And recently it struck a deal with SBA, but it didn’t name how many towers it might lease from that company.

Mayo said it’s in Dish’s best interest to work with a variety of tower companies, partly because it wants choices of infrastructure to deploy its radio designs.

Notably, Dish has not yet struck a tower deal with American Tower. But Mayo said, “We’re actively talking to American Tower. Stay tuned.”

And on yesterday’s American Tower earnings call its President and CEO Tom Bartlett said that it expects to get its fair share of business from Dish. “We stand ready to support Dish,” Bartlett said. “We know the teams well.”

Recently, SBA struck a deal to lease electric utility towers from Pacific Gas & Electric. Asked if Dish has any interest in using this kind of tower infrastructure, Mayo said, “We’ll choose everything under the sun imaginable to get antennas up in the air in the most expeditious fashion, which may include in some markets use of electrical towers.”

The company has already begun deploying 5G on a handful of towers, primarily on a test basis. It anticipates launching a commercial market in the third quarter, but it won’t divulge the location of that market. Dish’s headquarters is in Denver, and Mayo said, “Clearly our plan is to have a geography in Colorado in the first 10 states.”

Radio design

Mayo’s third priority was to develop radio designs for Dish’s network. “We had to get everything going, like immediately,” he said.

Dish has two vendors, so far, that are supplying radios for its open radio access network (RAN): Fujitsu and MTI. The radios from these vendors will run software from Altiostar.

In December Dish said that it conducted a test at its fully-virtualized standalone 5G core network in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In that test it integrated and validated end-to-end 5G connections using the industry's first O-RAN compliant FDD radio, developed by Taiwan-based MTI.

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Dish is deploying its 5G network on its existing mid-band and low-band spectrum, much of this in the 600 MHz and AWS frequencies. The company also bid heavily in the recent CBRS auction. It won the most priority access licenses, garnering 5,492 PALs.

In terms of the CBRS spectrum, Mayo said, “We’re actually pretty jazzed about that. We acquired nationwide licenses for CBRS. We think there’s lot of benefits. We’re looking at a whole list of things.”

Pulling it all together

It was important for Dish to get radio designs and tower deals done quickly because the commitment to cover at least 70% of the population by mid-2023 looms. Mayo said some big markets like New York City, Los Angeles and Miami can take much longer for site access and development than other markets.