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Dish Network has finally debuted its first 5G market in the U.S. with its launch in Las Vegas on May 4. This is just the first hurdle, however, as the greenfield 5G operator still has many obstacles to clear on the road to a truly nationwide 5G network in the U.S.
Dish initially said it would launch its Vegas 5G market at the end of 2020, so it’s only around a year and five months late! The satellite TV company’s drive to become a cellular player began after T–Mobile and Sprint closed their merger and became the third — now second — largest mobile network operator in the U.S.
In July 2019, Dish announced an agreement with the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, along with T–Mobile and Sprint, to become “the fourth nationwide facilities–based network competitor.” By mid–June this year, Dish has agreed to switch on 25 major markets as well as multiple smaller sites, covering 20% of the U.S. population with 5G.
Dish executives expect to meet this goal. “We’re well on our way to meeting our commitments including our upcoming deadline of covering 20% of the population by June 14th,” said Erik Carlson, CEO of Dish, during the company’s first–quarter earnings call on May 6.
Industry analysts also expect Dish to reach its first major 5G target. “They’re going to hit their June deadline,” Roger Entner, lead analyst at Recon Analytics, told EE Times on a recent phone call.
Entner notes that Dish will initially deliver a “data–only network” and will have to rely on “AT&T for voice,” something Dish is very prepared for thanks to having signed a 10–year wireless network services deal with Ma Bell in July 2021.
“The bigger challenge for them will be distribution, having a network alone is not enough,” Entner said. “Having a network covering only 20% of the population makes it a very challenging business proposition… they can’t provide a revolutionary offer on 20%.” Furthermore, he explains that Dish will also need to bring in stores to sell their 5G phones, as well as layer advertising into the mix.
Speaking of phones, Dish has only one 5G model on its new network so far: the $900 Motorola Edge+ handset. The service itself, which at the moment Dish is calling Project Genesis, offers unlimited 5G data, text, and voice for a very reasonable $30 a month.
For its 5G rollout, Dish is using frequencies including 600MHz, 700MHz E Block, 800MHz, AWS–4 (2000–2020 and 2180–2200MHz bands), and the AWS H block (1915–1920MHz and 1995–2000MHz). The company is using band 71 (600MHz) low–band spectrum for coverage, as well as band 66 (AWS) mid–band to achieve increased data download speeds for its initial Vegas deployment.
Download speeds for the Vegas 5G service run at over 100mbps. “We’re in nearly every Las Vegas ZIP code, plus Henderson,” Dish spokesman Ted Wietecha told the Las Vegas Review–Journal the day the service officially launched.
Dish is one of the first American carriers — other than T–Mobile — to launch its 5G network on a standalone core. The company is not building on existing 4G LTE networks, so there is no reason to use a 4G core to manage the 5G radio network, as most established mobile operators currently do.
The Dell’Oro Group calls the Dish launch “one of the most anticipated and publicized 5G Core launches” in a new report, noting that Dish is “the first to run 5G Core on the public cloud.” The analysts note that Nokia is the main 5G core vendor for Dish.
Despite analyst interest in the 5G core launch for Dish, Entner doesn’t think that there will be much corporate or consumer curiosity about the new 5G network, even after Dish launches 25 major markets in order to cover 20% of the U.S. population by mid–June.
“It’s the 20% [coverage] that is really holding them back,” Entner said. “I would say that they’re in the second stage of beta for the next year.”
Entner doubts that Dish will be able to sign up any mobile virtual network operator partners or many businesses to use a network with such limited coverage. “They will get a couple of trials and be very, very outspoken about them.”
Dish then has until June 14, 2023, to continue building a 5G network that should cover 70% of the U.S. population. The 5G aspirant has promised the Federal Communications Commission that such a network will use “at least 15,000 5G sites” and “at least 30 MHz of Dish’s 5G downlink spectrum” in order to be considered “a nationwide facilities–based wireless competitor.”
T–Mobile currently blankets over 310 million people in the U.S. with 5G. AT&T covers 255 million and Verizon over 230 million now. By the time that Dish comes into view as a rival in the summer of 2023, these coverage totals will doubtless have risen for all three of the major mobile network operators.
As Entner says, “they don’t offer anything that the other guys don’t offer.”