Dish faces FCC deadline today on 5G buildout

Dish’s 20% U.S. buildout deadline is today, and since the company didn’t ask for an extension – and company officials have been saying for weeks now they’re going to meet the deadline – expectations are high that it will meet its mark.

However, CNET reported that it looks like Dish is missing the deadline, while speculation on Twitter included the actual time of day the June 14 deadline strikes. Dish’s Project Genesis site mentions how the Las Vegas market is live but still referred to “more markets coming soon” this morning.

So, will Dish meet today’s deadline or not?

Fierce reached out to Dish for clarification. “The FCC deadline is the end of the day today,” a spokeswoman said, with the promise of sharing more details “soon.”

As part of the FCC’s approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, Dish was set up to take Sprint’s place as a fourth national competitor. Dish acquired Sprint’s Boost Mobile prepaid business, which operates under MVNO agreements while Dish builds its own 5G network.

At the WIA Connect(X) trade show in Denver about three weeks ago, Dish EVP of Network Development Dave Mayo said Dish was on target to meet the June 14 deadline of offering 5G to 20% of the population. By June 14 of 2023, Dish needs to cover 70% of the population. After that, the next deadline is to cover 75% of the population in each of the 400 or so Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) by mid-2025.

Dish will easily meet today’s deadline of reaching 20% of the U.S. population with 5G, as well as next year’s deadline to reach 70% of the population by June 2023, said Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics.

“We have put antennas on cell sites for 30 years. That is not the challenge. The challenge for Dish is to have all software running and to scale that properly,” Entner said.

Dish is building its 5G network using cloud-based, virtualized and open architecture principles – something no one in the U.S. has done before.

The tough target will be coverage in each PEA. Getting into big cities isn’t that difficult, but reaching more remote areas is a challenge. Then there’s the issue of retail stores – and all of the more complex questions of how to make and run a profitable wireless business.

Given the high cost of running retail stores, the first choice might be to try to do the bulk of it online. The good news is 20% of transactions are now online, Entner said. 

“The bad news is 80 percent are not,” he said, and the most price sensitive segment is online.  

Previous statements from Dish

During Dish’s May earnings call, CEO Erik Carlson said they were well on their way of meeting the June 14 deadline. Chairman Charlie Ergen also said they didn’t see a need to ask the FCC for an extension.

“The fact that an extension hasn’t been filed weeks ago may suggest that they can get to that 20% POP coverage,” said Bill Ho, principal analyst at 556 Ventures.

During the earnings call, Ergen also signaled that data seemed to be the only requirement they needed to make in order to meet the FCC’s date. “The commitment that we have to make is we have to do data,” Ergen said. “We have to do data [for] 20% of the population in the United States, so it’s not going to be a robust offering, as robust as we’d like.”

Ho also said Dish did/does have a reputation as a spectrum warehouser and noted that Dish was going to be an LTE IoT company until it pivoted to a full greenfield 5G network buildout.

For now, the big three – Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T – shouldn’t be too concerned about Dish as a competitor since Dish’s only competitive retail offering is Boost Mobile, and it’s been bleeding customers.

“Any new postpaid brand will need wider distribution to make a competitive impact,” Ho said. “Potentially, the increased distribution at Target could help but Dish has yet to make any retail brick and mortar inroads against the big 3’s distribution.”

Moreover, “the lack of a national network (albeit with T-Mobile and AT&T roaming) can eat into their commercial credibility. Even so with using that roaming partners’ network, any high usage can potentially elevate their subscriber costs,” Ho said.

Former Boost CEO weighs in

One of the founders of Boost Mobile, Peter Adderton, just announced a merger of Mobile X with industrial sensor company Electro-Sensors. In fact, he founded Mobile X out of frustration in how regulators handled the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, out of which Dish’s wireless business grew.

The reality is Boost was not something that the team at Dish set out to get, Adderton said. They weren’t saying, “how do we get ahold of 9 million-going-to-7 million low-income customers” while building a state-of-the-art 5G network, he said.

“You’ve got to look at the mindset that they have. They’re focused on building out a 5G network,” he added.

Anyone in today’s market who’s trying to build out a 5G network and offer a brand like Boost is destined to struggle, “because you really need to be laser focused on one or the other,” Adderton said.

Regulators have a responsibility to protect the consumers, not look out for the corporations. “I think they’ve got some massive challenges ahead of themselves, and to be totally honest, I hope Mobile X makes it another challenge for them” and Boost customers can come and see what his new company offers, he said.

He also questioned what it is Dish needs to offer in order to provide service in the U.S. wireless industry. Should a minimum number of handsets be part of the deal and/or a minimum number of retailers?

“What is their commitment? Is it just ticking a box? Is it just a matter of wind the power up and say, ‘OK, I’ve covered everybody’? Is there a level of SLAs that should be required in a commercial launch?,” he said. “I can turn on a cell site and just turn up the power and say, ‘Well, I’ve just covered” a certain number of square miles. But whether that makes it a viable fourth competitor is another matter.