Dish: Sure, we’ll build LTE, just give us four years

Dish Network(s dish) has taken possession of its 4G spectrum and it’s ready to deliver the competitive mobile broadband network the American public has long been craving – in 2016. In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, Dish basically asked the FCC for the granddaddy of all extensions for turning in its LTE network assignments, and its excuse was hardly more creative than “the dog ate my homework.”
Dish is claiming that it must wait for the LTE standards body, the 3GPP, to validate its S-band satellite spectrum – now being called the Advanced Wireless Services 4, or AWS-4 band — for 4G use. Normally that would seem reasonable – except that the 3GPP is expected to give its stamp of approval this December. Dish is claiming it needs a full four years after that to bring online a measly network covering 20 percent of the population. From the filing (pdf):

In general, development, testing, certification, and deployment must follow each other.  This entire process is expected to last 48 months from when the AWS-4 service rules and 3GPP S-Band specifications are completed.
In short, based on an ambitious buildout schedule and barring unforeseen circumstances, DISH believes it can deploy its network to 60 million POPs within four years.

It’s not as if the FCC isn’t giving Dish a long leash. The FCC proposes a 3-year time line for Dish, and the commission is even factoring in the time Dish has to wait while it finalizes the rulemaking that would officially designate its spectrum for terrestrial use.

Buying time for a quick spectrum flip?

So why does Dish need the extra year? It claims it needs to wait for the equipment, chipsets and devices to be available. By Dish’s reckoning wireless vendors have become so sluggish and unresponsive it will take 48 months to retune their already commercially available base stations and print new chipsets for the 2 GHz band.
Earlier this year, Dish claimed that it also had to wait for LTE-Advanced to be commercially available, which is another specious rationalization. LTE-Advanced is an iterative technology. You have to have an LTE network before you make it advanced.
To put this in perspective, the 3GPP approved the final LTE standard, called Release 8, in December 2008. Exactly two years later Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) had a commercial LTE network up and running. And Verizon was starting from scratch with a brand new standard – Dish only needs the 3GPP to tack on another frequency band class.
This is another example of an operator making desperate claims about the need for spectrum, and then finding every excuse not to build networks when they finally get it. It’s a good indication that Dish chairman Charlie Ergen has no intention of ever building a network and just wants to flip the licenses for a quick and profitable sale. The more leeway there is on a building a network, the more attractive those licenses will be to a potential buyer.
Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge also suspects that Ergen’s intentions aren’t pure. It sent its own filing to the FCC (pdf) asking that Dish’s spectrum be loaded down with conditions that would prevent big carriers like AT&T(s t) and Verizon Wireless from gobbling up its LTE capacity at wholesale rates. The most interesting condition was No.4, which would stipulate “unjust enrichment penalities” on Dish if it tried to sell its spectrum to Ma Bell or Big Red. From the filing:

While permitting a lucky incumbent to spin regulatory straw into gold may increase the total amount of spectrum available for mobile data services, the transfer of AWS-4 licenses to the emerging wireless duopoly would be worse than the status quo for consumers, competitors and innovators.

Dish photo courtesy of (CC BY 2.0) Flickr user Dave LindblomSale image courtesy of Flickr User Peter Kaminski