As Dish strives to create the US’ first standalone 5G network, new partners are being brought into the fold

Earlier this month, Dish completed the much awaited purchase of Boost Mobile, Sprint’s prepaid mobile business, from the newly formed T-Mobile. The deal, which was mandated by the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission as one of the main conditions of the Sprint–T-Mobile merger, will cost Dish around $1.4 billion and will gain them access to 9.3 million additional customers.


With the acquisition complete, Dish can now look towards its lofty goal of launching the US’ first standalone 5G network.


Naturally, this is no small feat – growing from 9 million customers to nationwide coverage is going to require major investment (estimated at over $10 billion), both in terms of technology and in infrastructure deployment itself. Dish has already begun rallying vendor partners in recent months, including Mavenir, Altiostar, and Fujitsu to help it achieve its standalone 5G dreams.It’s also worth noting that if Dish fails to provide coverage to at least 70% of the US by 2023, it will be liable to pay penalties to the US treasury.


Financially, Dish said it is in a good position to meet its goals, with founder and chairman Charlie Ergen saying in May that the company had raised $1 billion in equity for its 5G rollout.


The next potential hurdle would typically be spectrum availability, but this is not necessarily the case for Dish, which has spent billions on acquiring mostly unused spectrum over the past decade or so.


However, Dish may be looking to purchase even more spectrum from T-Mobile as part of its initial deals with the company back in 2019, potentially gaining 13.5 MHz of 800MHz spectrum for around $3.6 billion in 2023. As part of this deal, Dish would be required to lease back an unspecified amount of the spectrum to T-Mobile “as needed” for the following two years. 


This 800 MHz band would be incredibly useful for Dish, allowing for widespread geographic coverage, even if the speeds would not be able to rival some of higher-band 5G deployments seen elsewhere in the country.


Currently, Dish’s spectrum holdings are somewhat similar to Verizon’s, both in terms of low and mid-band spectrum, so gaining a healthy chunk of T-Mobile’s low-band holding could prove invaluable. That said, the US has an upcoming spectrum auction for the 3.7–4.2 GHz band, in which Verizon is expected to take the lion’s share in an effort to catch up to the new T-Mobile’s spectrum advantage. In this arena at least it seems Dish will be hard-pressed to compete.


Dish is touting its developing standalone 5G network as the “Netflix” to its rivals’ “Blockbuster” – just how far it can deliver on the claim remains to be seen. For now at least, spectrum availability will not stand in their way.


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