by Robert Herron
Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 3:31 PM MST
“I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque”, as Bugs Bunny often said. Or in the case of AT&T, maybe they should have taken a left turn at T-Mobile and went straight for Dish Network. Today BGR and Retuers wrote articles that perhaps an AT&T buyout of Dish Network is the natural migration path now for Big Blue and it’s 4G spectrum crunch. Seem far fetched?
Dish Network is sitting on 40MHz of S-Band spectrum (2.0GHz). This is the largest single chunk of spectrum available for a 4G network in the United States, short of Clearwire. And Dish Network picked up this spectrum for a relative steal.
Currently, the S-Band can only be used for satellite communication. But Dish Network has submitted a request to the FCC for a variance for it to be used for a terrestrial mobile broadband LTE network. This is expected to be approved by the FCC, with probably only build out timelines as requirements. Only Sprint put forth any significant opposition to the move, and they withdrew their concerns a few weeks ago. Probably to help grease the wheels for a deal with Dish.
Dish is weighing several options for a build out of it’s planned LTE network. It could go it alone and build it from scratch. This is seen as too slow and cost prohibitive. It also has been in talks with Sprint and going along with it’s Network Vision build out. And this may still happen. But there is nothing to believe that this has been worked out to date.
We also know that Dish has been talking with T-Mobile. It’s possible that Dish could use its massive spectrum on T-Mobile’s network. This could be a part of a hosting agreement, a joint venture, or it’s possible that Dish Network might buy out T-Mobile itself from Deutsche Telekom. These are likely more expensive propositions than a spectrum hosting deal with Sprint. And also would mean a slower deployment. However, depending on the preferred path Dish took with Tmo, it could leave them in a much better position and control.
If Dish Network prefers a Sprint deal over a Tmo deal, or vice versa, they aren’t letting anyone know. They are playing their cards close to their chest. They are most likely leveraging the potential deal with the other to secure the best deal possible. Having some competition helps, right? Dish Network is the wealthy and pretty girl who just moved to Wireless Carrier High, and all the guys are fighting over her and her assets.
And now, maybe this will be a three way competition? Maybe AT&T wants a piece of this Dish Network action? 40MHz of spectrum is hard to ignore for a carrier with a hundred million customers starving for a robust 4G network. And though Dish’s 2000MHz spectrum isn’t as wonderful as 700MHz, it’s a far cry better than Clearwire’s 2.5-2.6GHz.
AT&T could come up and offer Dish a network sharing deal that could easily trump Sprint and Tmo’s best. Also, AT&T may just buy out Dish Network out right. Most likely through a structured agreed to deal, but maybe even a hostile takeover of Dish stock. AT&T could afford to do that. And it just may have no choice. It’s long term spectrum options are thin. And if AT&T can steal Dish Network out of Sprint’s arms, then that would just be icing on the cake! Talk about high school dramatics.
An AT&T/Dish Network deal will not receive the regulatory approval scrutiny that the previous merger with T-Mobile did. Dish Network is not an AT&T competitor. The same number of Tier 1 carriers will still be around after closing of a deal. It will likely not affect competition in the Top 100 markets. And currently, Dish’s spectrum is unused. The FCC would love to see it in use for 4G and as soon as possible. That’s something AT&T will be able to deliver should a deal with Dish Network be reached.
All be told, this is going to be a very exciting time in the wireless world in the next few months. Everyone wants to take Dish to the prom. What is a Dish to do?