Dish’s 5G network plan may be delayed for years as a result of COVID-19

In August 2019, Dish Network Corporation agreed to pay $3.6 billion for spectrum and $1.4 billion for Sprint’s prepaid business, which serves 9.3 million customers nationwide. The wholesale agreement and prepaid divestitures would let Dish become a reseller in the near term, offering service to consumers over the T-Mobile/Sprint network.  Upon completion of the Sprint/T-Mobile merger, Dish was to acquire 14 MHz of Sprint’s nationwide 800 MHz spectrum.

Dish also committed to building a 5G network as a precondition of T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint.  Dish said its 5G network would cover 20% of the US population by 2022 and 70% by mid-2023.  At the time, Dish founder and CEO Charlie Ergen stated that not building the 5G network would amount to “financial suicide, and we’re not suicidal.”

Dish Wireless

However, as the coronavirus pandemic sends tremors through the U.S. economy, Dish faces a hostile operating environment: the company continues to shed subscribers from its pay-TV business (which is now suffering from  the loss of live sports); big banks have pulled back on loans; and Dish decided to cut staff to help weather the economic fallout of the pandemic.

The New York Post earlier reported that Ergen’s plans to build the country’s fourth nationwide wireless network by 2023 were being thrown into doubt, quoting a source saying there is no financing to build a new 5G wireless network.

Business Insider spoke with the president and CEO of NATE, Todd Schlekeway, who elaborated on the biggest challenges that the coronavirus poses for tower technicians:

“Number one: The PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] that they need is becoming very difficult to obtain from not only their normal supply channels, but [even] trying to go outside of those has been very difficult. Number two: Access to restaurants hasn’t been too big of an issue because a lot of places have drive-throughs, but some companies have narrowed their scope geographically during this pandemic … due to [limited access to] hotels. [This allows] their tower crews and their techs to come home every night, whereas before they may have been on the road a whole week. The logistics of sending a crew on the road is harder now because restrictions could be different between jurisdictions.” 

These challenges will likely slow down and increase the costs of Dish’s plan to deploy 10,000 sites for its 5G network by 2022. Given Dish’s already questionable $10-billion budget for a complete network build-out, it appears improbable that Dish will reach its ambitious network build-out targets.

Though Dish will be hit hardest by the logistical challenges of performing telecom field work during the pandemic, we expect the impacts will be felt by the industry at large. Dish is in a particularly challenging position, as it must build a network from scratch in order to compete as a network operator once its seven-year MVNO deal with T-Mobile expires.

But the big three U.S. wireless carriers likewise have ambitious 5G network build-out plans.  For example, the New T-Mobile intends to cover 99% of the U.S. with 5G within six years, as part of a plan that includes 10,000 new towers and 40,000 additional small cells.

As long as quarantine measures remain in effect, it will be more difficult for network operators to carry out extensive network upgrades. This presents a greater threat to the business strategies of would-be telco disruptors, as incumbents can fall back on their existing network capacity which doesn’t exist for the upstart wireless carriers like Dish.

Is Dish’s 5G network plan a pipe dream?  NY Post infers it is:

NY Post composite photo




3 thoughts on “Dish’s 5G network plan may be delayed for years as a result of COVID-19

  1. IMPORTANT to note that unless it’s delayed till 2021, ITU-R IMT 2020 standard will NOT specify ultra low latency/ultra high reliability cause those capabilities are in 3GPP Rel 16 which won’t be frozen till July 3rd when their next meeting ends. ITU-R WP5D meeting ends July 1st. So no liaison of 3GPP Rel 16 can occur at 5D’s June-July meeting which means no ultra low latency/ultra high reliability capability in 3GPP’s IMT 2020 RIT/SRIT!

    Report ITU-R M.2410-0 (11/2017) Minimum requirements related to technical performance for IMT-2020 radio interface(s)

    User plane latency : is the contribution of the radio network to the time from when the source sends a packet to when the
    destination receives it (in ms). It is defined as the one-way time it takes to successfully deliver an application layer packet/message from the
    radio protocol layer 2/3 SDU ingress point to the radio protocol layer 2/3 SDU egress point of the radio interface in either uplink or downlink in
    the network for a given service in unloaded conditions, assuming the mobile station is in the active state.
    This requirement is defined for the purpose of evaluation in the eMBB and URLLC usage scenarios.
    The minimum requirements for user plane latency are:
    – 4 ms for eMBB
    – 1 ms for URLLC
    Control plane latency : refers to the transition time from a most “battery efficient” state (e.g. Idle state) to the start of continuous data transfer (e.g. Active state).
    The minimum requirement for eMBB=20 ms and URLLC=10 ms usage scenarios.
    Reliability relates to the capability of transmitting a given amount of traffic within a predetermined
    time duration with high success probability. Reliability is the success probability of transmitting a layer 2/3 packet within a required maximum time, which is the time it takes to deliver a small data packet from the radio protocol layer 2/3 SDU ingress point to the radio protocol layer 2/3 SDU egress point of the radio interface at a certain channel quality. This requirement is defined for the purpose of evaluation in the URLLC usage scenario.

    The minimum requirement for the reliability is 1-10−5 success probability of transmitting a layer 2 PDU (protocol data unit) of 32 bytes within 1 ms in channel quality of coverage edge for the Urban Macro-URLLC test environment, assuming small application data (e.g. 20 bytes application data +protocol overhead). Proponents are encouraged to consider larger packet sizes, e.g. layer 2 PDU size of up to 100 bytes.

  2. Update from

    Dish Network said it would use open radio access network (RAN) technology from Mavenir to build a 5G network across the US. The news is notable as it represents Dish’s first vendor announcement for its planned network, which Mavenir boasted would be “the world’s largest cloud-native open RAN 5G network.”

    “Mavenir will help us lay the foundation for an innovative software-defined network with the flexibility, intelligence and scalability to deliver applications that will redefine the US wireless industry,” said Marc Rouanne, Dish’s chief network officer, in a release. Dish hired Rouanne, previously of Nokia, last year to lead the construction of its 5G network.

    Open RAN technology promises to decouple software from hardware, allowing network operators to reduce costs by using standardized hardware running software from a variety of vendors.

    Why this matters
    The announcement is important to Dish because it indicates the company is serious about moving forward with its plan to build a nationwide 5G network. Although Dish has been collecting a vast trove of spectrum licenses during the past decade, it has not put any of that spectrum to use in a commercial network.

    That changed in the summer of last year when Dish agreed to replace Sprint as the nation’s fourth nationwide wireless network operator, an agreement the company reached with T-Mobile as part of T-Mobile’s efforts to close its merger with Sprint.

    The closing of T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint on April 1 essentially puts Dish on the hook to follow through with its promise to build a nationwide wireless network.

    And Dish doesn’t have much time: Dish has promised to cover 20% of the US population with 5G by June 2022.

    However, the COVID-19 pandemic could affect Dish’s 5G buildout plans.

    For Mavenir, the company’s agreement with Dish represents a giant feather in its cap. Mavenir has been working to sell software-based networking services to mobile network operators across the world, with varying degrees of success.

    But Dish naming the company as its first vendor gives Mavenir a major boost, considering Dish’s network will cost at least $10 billion to build and will cover far more territory than most other wireless networks in smaller countries like those in Europe.

    However, the details of the agreement between Dish and Mavenir are unclear at best. Financial terms were not disclosed, nor were the specific products that Mavenir will supply to Dish.

    Dish will need to engage with other vendors for its buildout. After all, Mavenir has acknowledged it doesn’t make any physical 5G transmission equipment. “Availability of radios in the US bands is a fundamental US weakness,” the company wrote to the FCC regarding the agency’s plan to rip out Huawei equipment in the US and replace it with equipment from “trusted” vendors. Mavenir urged policymakers to encourage the development of “low cost US managed volume manufacture of radios” that could run its software.

    Dish executives have touted their intention to use US-based suppliers for the company’s 5G network, a position that capitalizes on US lawmakers’ notion of a race against China to 5G.

    — Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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