Dish makes broadband moves ahead of FCC approval
Will offer satellite-only services in national, rural-focused initiative, but LTE-Advanced plan may wait until 2016
Published: 17 August, 2012
Dish Network is still waiting for FCC clearance for its planned LTE network in mobile satellite spectrum, but that will not stop it going ahead with its own national broadband offering, based on proprietary satellite systems.
According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed sources, this network will be available by the end of 2012. It will run off a new satellite recently launched by Dish's sister company EchoStar, and will be formally unveiled in late September.
Of course, this service will not offer the kind of speeds or services which Dish hopes to provide with its LTE-Advanced roadmap. It will deliver about 5Mbps peaks and will target the traditional satellite communications homeland of rural access. Dish already offers such services through an alliance with ViaSat, but only in certain parts of the US, mainly areas east of the Mississippi River and the West Coast.
Dish is growing impatient of waiting for FCC approval for its plans in S-band spectrum, and seems to think that the more active it is in planning real world offerings, the more seriously it will be taken (many observers still believe Dish's real game is to trade the spectrum later for a profit). Recently, Dish chairman Charlie Ergen said that the firm would push ahead with handsets which use the satellite element of the S-band network, even before it is cleared to support terrestrial-only signals, as it hopes - the option of non-satellite devices offers a far stronger business case with cheaper, more standardized phones.
However, Dish is still likely to need a partner for its LTE venture, if it does get the FCC waiver it seeks, and has already been linked with Clearwire. Ergen said in a recent interview: "The only problem I see with the time that has gone by is that it's become increasingly risky for us to try to go it alone," he told the Denver Business Journal. "That process takes more than three years, and there's not any way to make that go faster, so we're probably going to lose that time-to-market advantage, because while we're handcuffed, AT&T and Verizon are continuing to plan and put in ways they can build that out before we can get there."
He continued: "The question we get is, 'When is the FCC going to approve your application?' And we don't know that. We can't go place an order to go build $1bn worth of radios until we know what frequencies to use. We don't know that today." That means it is "more increasingly unlikely that we would be able to build a network from scratch ourselves," he concluded. "I think we had all our options open if we had gotten it done by the first of the year... We're still cautiously optimistic that we can enter the business and create a great product for consumers."
Dish said in a filing to the FCC in May that it will not be able to launch its proposed LTE-Advanced network until 2016 or later, about a year after the regulator's proposed build-out schedule, which requires Dish to launch its network in three years covering 30% of the population. Dish has said that it will take at least 48 months from the time the 3GPP finalizes the S-band specifications for LTE-Advanced to launch its network - those are likely to be ratified in December. However, when it does go ahead, Dish says it will quickly cover 60% of the US population.