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Dish casts doubt over Sprint alliance

As satellite-TV firm opposes Softbank's plan to take 70% stake in Sprint, CEO outlines his own grand LTE push


Published: 3 January, 2013

READ MORE: Spectrum | US | Regulator | Satellite | LTE

Over the holiday, Dish Network's CEO Joseph Clayton seemed to scupper ideas that his firm might partner with Sprint for its mobile push this year.

Late last year, Dish gained FCC approval to use its mobile satellite spectrum in the AWS-4 band for terrestrial LTE services, and plans to build out an LTE-Advanced network (though the business model remains hazy and many still believe Dish will sell the frequencies on). It has said it needs a partner to achieve its goals, with Sprint widely tipped, despite battles between the two firms over the rules for AWS-4 (Dish had to agree to moves its services up the spectrum to avoid interference with the PCS H block, which Sprint hopes to acquire this year).

However, despite the logic behind merging Sprint's third-placed customer base and existing 4G projects with Dish's spectrum, Clayton told the Denver Business Journal: "We need a partner, that much we know. Who it is remains to be seen." And in the list of candidates, Sprint seemed to come way down. He added: "AT&T needs spectrum. Verizon is in pretty good shape now with its cable spectrum. T-Mobile and MetroPCS still need additional spectrum. Sprint, maybe not so. But spectrum's like oil, gold or water - you can't get enough of it. I could see a half-dozen different options that could play out."

In December, a Bloomberg report said Dish and Sprint had recently held talks about the possibility of the latter hosting Dish's services. The sticking point may have been Sprint's decision to acquire full control of its Clearwire joint venture, which has extensive holdings in 2.5GHz. Dish clearly sees the combination of Sprint/Clearwire, plus the plan for Japan's Softbank to acquire a 70% stake in Sprint, as threatening to its own opportunities. At the end of 2012, Dish asked the FCC for more time to file its opposition to the Softbank proposal, saying it was concerned about a foreign company controlling so much US spectrum, and about Sprint gaining an unfair quantity of frequencies.

As for Dish, the terms of FCC approval state it must cover at least 40% of the US population, in areas covered by its spectrum, in the next four years, or face penalties; and must cover 70% of that population within seven years.

At the notion that Dish had only acquired the spectrum as an asset to trade later, Clayton said in the interview: "Don't tell [Charlie that" (referring to Dish chairman Charlie Ergen). He added: "I didn't come out of retirement to say grace over a declining paid-TV business and to just cut costs and make things as efficient as possible. I came for the ride, the growth and the excitement. We're going to change the way America communicates and entertains itself. And it won't just be about wireless. It's about satellite broadband for rural America, too."

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