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Dish looking to pick up pieces from AT&T/TMo break-up

CEO indicates he could form spectrum partnership with T-Mobile if AT&T's takeover plan fails


Published: 13 December, 2011

READ MORE: Spectrum | US | Dishnet Wireless | Infrastructure | Regulator | Satellite | LTE

In the likely event that AT&T's bid to acquire T-Mobile USA fails, the German-owned cellco has a shrinking set of options to remain viable, but Dish Network is hinting it might step in as the savior.

Lacking sufficient spectrum to create a national LTE network on its own, and with a parent keen to cash in its US investment, TMo's main option has been assumed to be a wholesale deal with LightSquared or even Sprint/Clearwire. This would fulfil the Department of Justice's requirement to preserve a fourth national cellco, and Deutsche Telekom might hope for a takeover down the road - if another player, such as LightSquared, took that role of 'viable fourth', or if a non-US bidder stepped into the fray.

But with question marks hanging over the plans of LightSquared (GPS interference) and Clearwire (funding for LTE migration), satellite-TV provider Dish Network may prove to be a kingmaker, as it hunts for deals and influence via its newly acquired mobile satellite spectrum. Assuming the FCC gives it a similar waiver to that obtained by LightSquared - which would allow it to support terrestrial-only LTE services in satellite bands - it would be a valuable partner for a firm with insufficient 4G frequencies of its own (and Dish's licences live a safe distance from GPS).

CEO Joseph Clayton said in an interview with Bloomberg News that his firm might partner with TMo if its acquisition failed, merging the spectrum Dish acquired from bankrupt DBSD and TerreStar with the frequencies held by TMo - the main motive for AT&T's troubled bid. The combination of Dish and the fourth cellco would create a viable rival to AT&T and Verizon, he argued, saying that one option would be to place the combined spectrum assets in a new company.

However, he indicated that the options remain open, and a partnership with the Sprint/Clearwire alliance could also be on the cards (especially if Sprint's other partner, LightSquared, is neutralized). And if the AT&T/TMo merger were to proceed, Dish would look to acquire some of the licences and markets the firms would be required to divest. The satellite player has opposed the deal, arguing it would reduce competition, but insists the eventual outcome will not hurt its plans either way. "We feel if the AT&T-T-Mobile deal goes through, we win," Clayton said. "If it doesn't go through, we still win."

He denied persistent speculation that Dish had acquired spectrum purely as an investment. "We're not interested in making money on selling our spectrum. We want to use it to create a national wireless network, video, voice and data. We've got expertise in satellite-TV, and we will in satellite broadband. The voice part, we'll need some help with."

Andreas Fuchs, a spokesman for Deutsche Telekom, told Bloomberg a deal with Dish isn't currently being considered. "Deutsche Telekom is pursuing the AT&T deal," he said. "There is no plan B."

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