Dish Wireless will conduct 5G tests using spectrum in the 800MHz band before making a decision on whether to purchase the spectrum from T-Mobile later this year

This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has given formal permission for Dish Wireless to begin 5G tests using a portion of T-Mobile’s low-band spectrum.

The spectrum in question comprises 13.5 MHz of airwaves in the 817–824 MHz and 862–869 MHz bands, which Dish has the option to purchase from the magenta giant later this year if it so chooses.

The tests themselves will take place in Yuma, Arizona, with the FCC authorising a test period from March 5 to September 30.

Dish’s option to purchase the spectrum from T-Mobile exists as a result of the merger between the latter and Sprint back in 2020, with the FCC ordering T-Mobile to divest of the spectrum as part of the approval process. More specifically, these T-Mobile is required give Dish the option to buy the spectrum for $3.59 billion by April 1 this year, exactly three years since the merger closed.

If Dish prefers not to make this purchase, it will be required to pay T-Mobile $72 million, as well as $360 million to the US government, though the operator could avoid the latter payment if it meets certain deployment parameters.

Over the past couple of years, with Dish rapidly rolling out its greenfield 5G network, there has been much speculation about whether the company would move forward with this purchase or not.

One the one hand, the operator already makes heavy use of 600MHz spectrum for its 5G services, which offers similar coverage and latency to the 850MHz band, potentially making the purchase somewhat redundant.

On the other, spectrum is an inherently scare and ergo valuable resource and the price is potentially attractive. In a recent earnings call, the company has hinted that it could be leaning towards the purchase after all, with CFO Paul Orban saying that “the probability that we would exercise [the purchase option] has increased.”

Some analysts speculate that Dish may be in discussions with a third-party that could help fund the spectrum acquisition.

Can Dish rise to the challenge of becoming the fourth nationwide wireless operator in the US? Join the telecoms industry in discussion at this year’s live Connected America conference in Dallas, Texas later this month

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