Dish: We already have RAN vendors for our NB-IoT network

Dish Network expects to ink its first deals with tower companies early next year as it prepares to build an NB-IoT infrastructure. And it has already finalized deals with multiple vendors of telecom gear.

“We are still focused on the narrowband IoT build as we shared in March with the FCC; had a very good quarter in terms of progress. We’ve finalized contracts with more than one global vendor for radio access equipment and other associated equipment that goes on towers,” said Tom Cullen, Dish’s executive vice president of corporate development, in an earnings call Thursday transcribed by Seeking Alpha.

“We’ve initiated contact with a wide range of tower owners and have begun those discussions as well,” Cullen continued. “So we think we’ll have some of those agreements wrapped up early in 2018. So, because of the unique spectrum configuration of meeting our license requirements for both AWS-4 and 700 MHz, the radios require development. So we’ve paid those development fees and we would expect to have radios later in 2018 and begin deployment shortly thereafter.”

The satellite TV provider has gradually compiled a significant amount of spectrum via auctions and secondary-market transactions, and it has amassed a particularly sizable chunk of midband airwaves, according to Allnet Insights & Analytics. Earlier this year, Dish outlined plans to build an NB-IoT network using its spectrum to provide connectivity to a wide range of devices other than traditional tablets and smartphones.

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.

Dish plans to meet the FCC’s deadline in an initial phase of its network rollout, Cullen said, and a second phase will occur after 5G standards are defined and its 600 MHz airwaves are cleared for wireless use. And the company hopes to play a key role as the IoT market explodes to connect “hundreds of billions” of devices, people and platforms, CEO Charlie Ergen said.

“For wireless we think we hit the right timing as 5G comes about and as connectivity becomes a greater need for companies. And the people in the business today have really good networks for voice, … but they can’t upgrade their networks overnight to connectivity networks. They’ll get there over time, but they’re changing the tires on the car going down the highway at 100 miles an hour, and that’s always a difficult thing to do. Whereas we get to do it from a blank sheet of paper,” Ergen said.

“You name it, whether it be artificial intelligence or virtual reality, autonomous vehicles or industrial or municipalities or healthcare or consumers and homes and everything else, the efficiency gains, the connectivity from what we’re going to be able to do within a 5G technology is going to be massive,” Ergen claimed. “The next big $500 billion company is going to come out of connectivity.”