Bloomberg: Higher borrowing costs hurting indebted wireless companies; industry is 2nd largest source of distressed debt

S&P Global estimates total outstanding debt in the speculative-grade U.S. telecom and cable sector is about $275.4 billion. Most of the telecom debt issuers took advantage of historically low interest rates in 2020 and 2021 to refinance their capital structures and push out maturities until 2026 and 2027.   Wireless carriers spent heavily on acquiring spectrum licenses and building out their 5G networks, which led to significant debt loads and a very low ROI.  For example, AT&T’s total debt increased significantly due to the C-band auction for 5G spectrum. It jumped from $182.98 billion at the end of 2020 to $209.08 billion in March 2021.  Similarly, Verizon’s total debt climbed from $151.24 billion to $180.70 billion during the same period.  Large debt loads can limit a company’s ability to invest in new technologies and infrastructure.

Billionaires who built their fortunes building out wireless networks when debt cost almost nothing are seeing their wealth evaporate. For example:

  • Altice founder Patrick Drahi’s wealth has dropped almost 18% to $4.4 billion this year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.  Altice has been the poster child for the industry’s travails recently. Last month, Altice spokesmen told creditors of its French operations that they would have to take a hit (impairment charge) in the restructuring of the €24.3 billion debt pile.
  • Rakuten Group Inc.’s Hiroshi Mikitani’s fortune has shrunk 69% since 2021 after a push into mobile increased the firm’s losses.  Rakuten announced earlier this month that it was looking at combining its financial units into a single group.
  • Dish Network Corp. Chairman Charles Ergen has seen his riches shrink nearly 80% in less than three years as the company tries to transition from pay-TV to wireless services. Dish has been searching for ways to address upcoming debt maturities after scrapping a debt swap earlier this year when bondholders pushed back on the deal.  Private credit firms have offered financing, Bloomberg News previously reported.

The stumbles in wireless highlight wider troubles across telecommunications, media and technology. Communications is the worst-performing junk sector in the US this year, Bloomberg Intelligence credit analyst Stephen Flynn wrote in a note this week, with several members of the index burdened with high leverage and facing large maturity walls.  Annual returns from the industry’s junk bonds have turned negative this year as shown in this chart:

Wireless is the second biggest source of distressed debt globally (#1 is real estate) after the debt pile swelled to $35.3 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. That’s up more than 80% since early January!  The fall in Altice bond prices sent the total level of distressed debt globally last week to the highest level since the middle of January.

Digicel, the Caribbean mobile operator founded by Irish businessman Denis O’Brien, imposed losses on bondholders and lenders earlier this year via what ratings company Moody’s described as a “distressed exchange.”

In summary, managing debt and addressing bad debt are crucial for the wireless industry to maintain financial stability and sustain growth. As interest rates fluctuate and operational challenges persist, wireless telecom companies must find effective strategies to mitigate these risks and optimize revenue assurance.


Where Have You Gone 5G? Midband spectrum, FWA, 2024 decline in CAPEX and RAN revenue

Telecom layoffs continue unabated as AT&T leads the pack – a growth engine with only 1% YoY growth?

MTN Consulting: Generative AI hype grips telecom industry; telco CAPEX decreases while vendor revenue plummets

Dell’Oro: Telecom Capex Growth to Slow in calendar years 2022-2024

FT: Telecom & Technology on the Ropes: Challenging Markets & Too Much Debt

DISH Wireless Awarded $50 Million NTIA Grant for 5G Open RAN Center (ORCID)

DISH Wireless, a subsidiary of EchoStar, was awarded a historic $50 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to establish the Open RAN Center for Integration & Deployment (ORCID). ORCID will allow participants to test and validate their hardware and software solutions (RU, DU and CU) against a complete commercial-grade Open RAN network deployed by DISH.

“The Open RAN Center for Integration and Deployment (ORCID) will serve a critical role in strengthening the global Open RAN ecosystem and building the next generation of wireless networks,” said Charlie Ergen, co-founder and chairman, EchoStar. “By leveraging DISH’s experience deploying the world’s first standalone Open RAN 5G network, ORCID will be uniquely positioned to test and evaluate Open RAN interoperability, performance and security from domestic and international vendors. We appreciate NTIA’s recognition of DISH and ORCID’s role in driving Open RAN innovation and the Administration’s ongoing commitment to U.S. leadership in wireless connectivity.”

To date, this grant represents NTIA’s largest award under the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund (Innovation Fund). ORCID will be housed in DISH’s secure Cheyenne, Wyoming campus and will be supported by consortium partners Fujitsu, Mavenir and VMware by Broadcom and technology partners Analog Devices, ARM, Cisco, Dell Technologies, Intel, JMA Wireless, NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Samsung.

NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson and Innovation Fund Director Amanda Toman will join EchoStar Co-Founder and Chairman Charlie Ergen, EchoStar CEO Hamid Akhavan, EVP and Chief Network Officer Marc Rouanne and other stakeholders to announce the grant and tour a DISH 5G Open RAN cell site later today in Las VegasMr. Davidson announced the award, part of an almost $80 million allocation under the administration’s Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund, at an event staged at a Dish open RAN 5G cell site.

“Just a few firms today provide the full set of radios and computers that power mobile phones, and some of those equipment vendors pose national security risks to the US and our allies around the world,” Davidson said. “The result is that we have a wireless equipment market where costs are high, resilience is low and American companies are increasingly shut out.”

During this event, DISH will outline ORCID’s unique advantages, including that it will leverage DISH’s experience as the only operator in the United States to commercially deploy a standalone Open RAN 5G network. DISH and its industry partners have validated Open RAN technology at scale across the country; today DISH’s network covers over 246 million Americans nationwide.

At ORCID, participants will be able to test and evaluate individual or multiple network elements to ensure Open RAN interoperability, performance and security, and contribute to the development, deployment and adoption of open and interoperable standards-based radio access networks. ORCID’s “living laboratory” will drive the Open RAN ecosystem — from lab testing to commercial deployment.

Highlights of ORCID:

  • ORCID will combine both lab and field testing and evaluation activities. ORCID will be able to test elements brought by any qualified vendor against DISH’s live, complete and commercial-grade Open RAN stack.
  • ORCID will use DISH’s spectrum holdings, a combination of low-, mid- and high-band frequencies, enabling field testing and evaluation.
  • ORCID will evaluate Open RAN elements through mixing and matching with those of other vendors, rather than validating a single vendor’s stack. DISH’s experience in a multi-vendor environment will give ORCID unique insights about the integration of Open RAN into brownfield networks.
  • ORCID’s multi-tenant lab and field testing will occur in DISH’s secure Cheyenne, Wyoming facility, which is already compliant with stringent security protocols in light of its satellite functions.

About DISH Wireless:

DISH Wireless, a subsidiary of EchoStar Corporation, is changing the way the world communicates with the Boost Wireless Network. In 2020, the company became a nationwide U.S. wireless carrier through the acquisition of Boost Mobile. The company continues to innovate in wireless, building the nation’s first virtualized, Open RAN 5G broadband network, and is inclusive of the Boost InfiniteBoost Mobile and Gen Mobile wireless brands.

SOURCE: DISH Network Corporation


Dish Network to FCC on its “game changing” OpenRAN deployment

Dish Network & Nokia: world’s first 5G SA core network deployed on public cloud (AWS)

Dish Wireless with Qualcomm Technologies and Samsung test simultaneous 5G 2x uplink and 4x downlink carrier aggregation

Justice Dept approves the “New T-Mobile” via Sprint merger; Dish Network becomes 4th U.S. wireless carrier with focus on 5G





Dish Wireless with Qualcomm Technologies and Samsung test simultaneous 5G 2x uplink and 4x downlink carrier aggregation

Dish Wireless collaborated with Qualcomm Technologies and Samsung to successfully test simultaneous 5G 2x uplink and 4x downlink carrier aggregation (CA) using FDD spectrum.  DISH achieved 200 Mbps uplink peak speeds with just 35 MHz of 5G spectrum.  The DISH 5G network executed 1.3 Gbps downlink peak speeds with just 75 MHz of 5G spectrum, both across FDD bands n71, n70 and n66.  Boost Mobile and Boost Infinite subscribers will soon benefit with even faster download and upload speeds on America’s Smart Network™.

This test was completed in both DISH labs and the field using a mobile phone form-factor test device powered by Snapdragon® X75 5G Modem RF System from Qualcomm Technologies [1.] and Samsung’s 5G vRAN solution as well as dual- and tri-band radios across the DISH 5G network.

Note 1.  Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X75is currently sampling to customers with commercial devices expected to launch later this year.

“It’s been a pleasure to work closely with DISH Wireless and support their expanding cloud-native Open RAN virtualized network as 5G services are now live across several markets, clearing the path for even lower latency and faster speeds,” said Mark Louison, executive vice president and general manager, Networks Business, Samsung Electronics America. “We are committed to pushing the boundaries to advance network capabilities to meet growing consumer demands for our customers.”

“We look forward to continued collaborative efforts with industry partners such as DISH and Samsung to enable faster 5G around the world,” said Sunil Patil, vice president, Product Management, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “As consumers demand increases for uplink heavy applications, carrier aggregation on FDD spectrum is crucial to bring faster upload speeds to more consumers across markets and networks.”


DISH claims its “Open RAN cloud-native 5G network is changing the way the world communicates,” but we don’t believe that is happening and we are not proponents of OpenRAN.

“The DISH 5G Open RAN network now covers over 73% of the U.S. population 5G broadband coverage and more than 100 million Americans 5G voice service – VoNR – with more markets going live each month,” said Eben Albertyn, EVP and CTO, DISH Wireless. “By successfully delivering 5G 2x uplink and 4x downlink carrier aggregation for FDD spectrum, DISH is now poised to deliver a better customer experience across our 5G standalone network. We look forward to continuing to pave the way to fully harness the power of 5G.”


According to Daryl Schoolar, analyst and director at Recon Analytics, this achievement is significant for Dish because while operators have been able to do downlink CA using multiple FDD bands, uplink CA is very new.  DISH’s announcement comes just a little over a month after Qualcomm and Samsung announced that they had completed the world’s first simultaneous 5G 2x uplink and 4x downlink CA for FDD spectrum. Qualcomm and Samsung noted at the time that this development was important because it gives operators with fragmented FDD spectrum assets more flexibility and makes it possible for them to deliver faster upload and download speeds.  Traditionally, uplink CA has been accomplished by combining FDD+TDD or TDD+TDD configurations.

Schooler added that Dish’s announcement demonstrates that this capability can be delivered over a commercial 5G network and Dish will benefit from it as it grows its subscriber base. “Increasing network capacity will be important given that Dish trails its three largest U.S. mobile competitors in lower-spectrum holdings,” he said.

Uplink capacity is becoming more critical as more consumers use uplink-heavy applications such as social media posting and video conferencing.  Indeed, the possibility of delivering peak uplink speeds of 200 Mbps is quite a sizable increase from typical uplink speeds that are measured on wireless networks today. In Ookla’s Q3 2023 report on U.S. wireless networks, it reported that T-Mobile had the fastest median upload speed in the U.S. with speeds of just 11.31 Mbps.


About DISH Wireless:
DISH Wireless, a subsidiary of DISH Network Corporation (NASDAQ: DISH), is changing the way the world communicates with the Boost Wireless Network. In 2020, the company became a nationwide U.S. wireless carrier through the acquisition of Boost Mobile. DISH continues to innovate in wireless, building the nation’s first virtualized, O-RAN 5G broadband network, and is inclusive of the Boost InfiniteBoost Mobile and Gen Mobile wireless brands.

For company information, go to



Dish says its 5G network now covers 70% of the U.S. population

Dish Network to FCC on its “game changing” OpenRAN deployment

Dish Network & Nokia: world’s first 5G SA core network deployed on public cloud (AWS)




Dish says its 5G network now covers 70% of the U.S. population

Dish Network says its 5G network is available to more than 240 million people and covers 70% of the U.S. population.  That 70% threshold is what regulators demanded for it to keep valuable spectrum licenses. Dish says it has satisfied all June 14th deadlines set by the FCC, including having launched over 15,000 5G sites. Dish will continue to face 5G buildout deadlines set by federal regulators, including one in 2025 that Dish will likely need to invest billions in a rural buildout to meet. Investors have punished the stock, sending shares to near their lowest level since around 1999 amid worries that the company is struggling to stand up its wireless network without a partner.

Dish is also the first wireless service provider to launch 5G voice service – called voice over new radio (VoNR) – in the U.S. Since going live in Las Vegas last year, Dish steadily increased VoNR functionality to additional markets. Our VoNR service now covers more than 70 million people across the U.S. through both Boost Mobile and Boost Infinite. Dish plans to continue rolling out VoNR service as the network is further optimized for this next-generation voice technology.

Image Credit: Dish Networks

“As a leader in Open RAN technology, Dish is playing a major role in the transformation of America’s wireless infrastructure and the way the world communicates,” said John Swieringa, president and chief operating officer, Dish Wireless. “We have made significant progress on our network buildout, and can now focus on monetizing the network through retail and enterprise growth. With more markets across the country offering the Dish 5G network for voice, text and data services, our business can start realizing the benefits of owner economics.”

The company “can now focus on monetizing the network through retail and enterprise growth,” COO John Swieringa said in a news release, a nod to shareholder impatience with a costly project. Dish now has a month to prove it to the Federal Communications Commission with detailed documentation.  Dish will file its FCC buildout report no later than July 14, 2023.

LightShed Partners analyst Walt Piecyk notes that confirmation that regulators are satisfied might soothe investors, but he doesn’t expect the FCC to comment “for the foreseeable future, if ever,” a silence that poses an “incremental hurdle for Dish to raise needed capital.”


For a complete list of DISH’s wireless partners, please visit

Dish Network to FCC on its “game changing” OpenRAN deployment

Dish Network & Nokia: world’s first 5G SA core network deployed on public cloud (AWS)

Dish Network & Nokia: world’s first 5G SA core network deployed on public cloud (AWS)

Dish Network is just a month into the commercial launch of its  cloud native based 5G core network, but is already planning how it will expand that architecture to take advantage of multicloud and hybrid cloud environments.

During a Dish-Nokia fireside chat this Tuesday (sponsored by Nokia) on LinkedIn, Jitin Bhandari – CTO and VP, Cloud and Network Services, Nokia interviewed Sidd Chenumolu, VP of technology development and network services at Dish Wireless, provided some insight into the carrier’s current use of Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud resources.  

Chenumolu said Dish’s 5G core was currently using three of AWS’ four public regions, was deployed in “multiple availability zones and almost all the local zones, but most were deployed with Nokia applications across AWS around the country.”

[AWS Outposts GM Joshua Burgin had previously explained to SDxCentral that Dish would be using a mixture of AWS Regions, Local Zones, and Outposts, specifically the smaller form factor AWS Outposts servers, to power its network. This includes the deployment of single 1U Outpost servers, some with an accelerator card, to run network functions in single-digit milliseconds at cell sites, he said in a phone interview.]

AWS Local Zones, which are built on Outpost racks and span 15 locations around the U.S., some of which were deployed to meet Dish’s demands, run Dish’s less latency-sensitive functions, Burgin explained. Dish’s operations and business support systems will run on AWS Regions.

“How to we deploy 5G SA core network on multi-cloud,” Sidd asked but did not answer.  He then started to turn the tables and interview Jitin via a series of questions.

Chenumolu did not provide an update on Dish’s use of AWS’ Wavelength platform, which the cloud giant initially launched in partnership with Verizon to marry the network operators’ 5G networks with AWS’ edge compute service. Burgin had previously stated that support “could come down the line.”

The usual hype and back slapping/praise with glib expressions like “disintegrated disruptor, uncharted territory, automate learning with AI, cloud RAN,” etc. characterized the session.


Dish Network as systems integrator; will use Rakuten Symphony’s observability framework in its 5G network

In a press release today, Dish Network said it would use Rakuten Symphony’s observability framework (OBF) in its planned yet delayed 5G network. The company said it would use the Japanese upstart’s technology to collect telemetry data from its network functions in order to support the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to make its operations more efficient.

Dish is adding Rakuten Symphony to its roster of modern telco infrastructure vendors that support Open RAN and cloud-native technologies as a provider of Operational Support Systems (OSS) services. Together, Dish’s roster of OSS vendors will aggregate service assurance, monitoring, customer experience and automation through a singular platform on the DISH 5G network.

The OBF will bring even greater visibility into the performance and operations of the network’s cloud-native functions with near real-time results. This collected data will be used to optimize networks through its Closed Loop Automation module, which executes procedures to provide automatic scaling and healing while minimizing manual work and reducing errors.

The agreement strengthens the operability of Dish’s cloud-native, Open RAN 5G network and lays the foundation for further collaboration in advancing OpenRAN and cloud-native network technologies.  As noted previously, Dish’s cloud native 5G core network will be implemented by Amazon AWS

Rakuten Symphony – a new, independent division of the Japanese Internet company Rakuten developed specifically to sell open RAN technologies globally – joins a growing list of Dish 5G vendors that seems to expand almost every week.

Among those tools and services are service assurance solutions that were developed based on Rakuten’s experience in the Japanese market. Rakuten Symphony CEO Tareq Amin has described Japanese consumers as “quality-obsessed” and shared anecdotal stories about customers who experience a dropped call or otherwise sub-optimal network experience sharing their stories far and wide on social media. This led to the development of new service assurance tools that went from generalized customer experience measures to drilling down to “accurate empirical data” at an individual subscriber level. Amin also told RCR Wireless News that Rakuten Symphony’s goal is to be a “platform partner” rather than a vendor.

“We had gotten a lot of inquiries about the applicability of this approach to the U.S. market. So, we decided to expand in the U.S. I have formally started a few weeks ago,” Azita Arvani, GM of Rakuten Mobile Americas, told Light Reading in early 2020.  The interest is mutual as Dish chairman Charlie Ergen said in February, “Rakuten is important in the sense that we’ve learned a lot from them.”


Recently, Dish said it would use Cisco for routing, IBM for automation, Spirent for testing and Equinix for interconnections – announcements noteworthy considering Dish is mere weeks from its first market launch.  The ability to automatically, virtually and in parallel test new 5G Standalone services, slices and software updates in the cloud is key to Dish Network’s network strategy and its differentiation, according to Marc Rouanne, Dish EVP and chief network officer for its wireless business. Rouanne said that the ability to rapidly test and certify network software and services has been part of Dish’s vision for its network.

Dish announced more than a year ago that it would use radio management software from both Mavenir and Altiostar, when Rakuten was a major investor in Altiostar [Note 1.]

–>So it seams that Dish Network’s 5G role will be that of a systems integrator, putting together the many outsourced parts of its 5G greenfield network.  It remains to be seen what combination of vendors will supply the Open RAN portion of the 5G network and what development, if any, Dish’s engineers will do for it.  And how will Dish’s 5G SA core network via AWS interface with those Open RAN vendors?

Note 1. Rakuten purchased Altiostar outright in August 2021 in a deal worth more than $1 billion. Rakuten’s purchase of Altiostar is part of the company’s broader effort to leverage its Japanese mobile network into a global business selling software, hardware and services to other network operators. The offering was initially dubbed Rakuten Mobile Platform (RMP), and then Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP), but the company in August named it Symphony and said the operation targeted an addressable market of up to $100 billion.


While our colleague Craig Moffett of Moffett-Nathanson is highly skeptical, some analysts are optimistic about Dish’s 5G prospects. “We have been bullish on Dish on the view that they would have a lower cost for capacity than the incumbents,” wrote the financial analysts at New Street Research in a note to investors this week. We argued that Dish would be worth over $100 / share if they sold their capacity at prices below Verizon’s cost. If correct, this sets up an exciting opportunity for disruption.”

About DISH:
DISH Network Corporation is a connectivity company. Since 1980, it has served as a disruptive force, driving innovation and value on behalf of consumers. Through its subsidiaries, the company provides television entertainment and award-winning technology to millions of customers with its satellite DISH TV and streaming SLING TV services. In 2020, the company became a nationwide U.S. wireless carrier through the acquisition of Boost Mobile. DISH continues to innovate in wireless, building the nation’s first virtualized, O-RAN 5G broadband network. DISH Network Corporation (NASDAQ: DISH) is a Fortune 200 company.

For company information, visit

About Rakuten Symphony:
Rakuten Symphony, a Rakuten Group organization with operations across Japan, Singapore, India, EMEA, and the United States, develops and brings to the global marketplace cloud-native, open RAN telco infrastructure platforms, services and solutions.



Dish loses MVNO subs; cost of 5G buildout much higher than $10B stated by the company

Dish Network reported a small drop in third-quarter revenues after losing both pay-TV and mobile subscribers. Revenue dropped to $4.45 billion from $4.53 billion a year earlier, while net profit improved over the same period to $557 million from $505 million, helped by improved profitability at the mobile business following the integration of various acquisitions.

DISH Network’s 2021 revenue through the third quarter totaled $13.43 billion, compared to $10.94 billion in revenue from the same period last year. In the first nine months of 2021, net income attributable to DISH Network totaled $1.86 billion, compared with $1.03 billion during the same period last year.

Dish said it lost 13,000 pay-TV subscribers in the quarter, compared to a net increase of 116,000 in the year-ago quarter. It ended September with a total 10.98 million TV customers, including 8.42 million Dish satellite users and 2.56 million subscribers for the streaming service Sling TV.  That compares to 8.55 million Dish TV subscribers and 2.44 million Sling TV subscribers at the end of June.

At the mobile (MVNO) business, the company lost 121,000 retail customers in Q3, less than the drop of 212,000 in the year-ago quarter. The company blamed the decline on device shortages, ongoing integration and optimization of operations and the pending closure of T-Mobile’s CDMA network. Dish closed the quarter with 8.77 million retail wireless subscribers, down 6.8 percent from a year earlier, and Q3 wireless service revenue was down 4.1 percent to $1.04 billion.

Dish said the construction of its 5G Open RAN network is underway in 35 markets across the U.S. and confirmed it’s started a consumer beta service on the network in Las Vegas. Capex for the network build jumped to $281 million in the third quarter from $22 million a year ago, and Dish said spending will ramp up further in the rest of 2021 to support the roll-out.

Analyst Craig Moffett isn’t able to evaluate Dish’s wireless business at this time. He wrote in a note to clients:

We’re still years away from any real understanding of Dish’s wireless prospects. A  discounted cash flow would be utterly absurd (How many subscribers? In what business segments? At what ARPU? At what margin? After what capex?).

We still don’t even know what or where they are building, so answering any of those questions would be little more than throwing darts. In the dark. And what will we learn from their Las Vegas beta? Nothing important, in all likelihood, other than “yes, the equipment seems to work.” Spectrum-based valuations that assume that Dish is a liquidation play aren’t much better. Sure, they’re easier to ground in some sort of reality (there are, at least, comps). But this methodology is all but impossible to reconcile with use-it-or-lose-it FCC buildout requirements that come before the window to sell opens.

Well, consider that Dish’s long-term tower lease obligations now total more than $13.6B [1.]. For a 5G network that is supposedly only going to cost $10B to build [2.] – and, yes, they haven’t even started really “building” yet – they are already $14B underwater. And that doesn’t count the $62M of EBITDA losses on the segment this quarter… and whatever they might have spent on the ongoing 3.45 GHz spectrum auction.

Note 1.  Dish has signed tower lease agreements with each of the big four tower companies. Dish Network’s 10-Q report details their “other long-term obligations,” which represent minimum payments related to tower obligations, certain 5G Network Deployment commitments, obligations under the NSA with AT&T, and satellite-related and other obligations.” The total tower lease obligation is currently $13.6B.  It is notable that this obligation now far exceeds the $10B Dish said would be the total 5G network cost.  Yet Dish has barely started spending on the network yet.

Note 2.  Boost Mobile America founder Peter Adderton said the the actual cost to build Dish’s 5G network may be closer to $20 billion, according to a Seeking Alpha article.


Dish Network’s 5G test network delayed; no firm date for commercial 5G service

We all know that Dish Network’s satellite TV business has been declining for years.  Their prepaid Boost Mobile MVNO business is also declining, but that isn’t very important either.

[Dish’s existing prepaid business is largely from the acquisition of the Boost business from T-Mobile, Dish lost 201,000 subscribers in the period, fewer than the -254,000 expected by analysts, but more than the -132,000 expected by New Street Research. Dish ended the quarter with 8.89 million retail wireless subs.]

What really matters is the 5G/O-RAN business they are building with help from Amazon’s AWS. We may not find out anything important about that business for months. See analyst comment at the end of this article.

Dish’s planned 5G test market in Las Vegas, NV will show us whether they can get the network to work. Will they be able to do it for less than the $10B CAPEX to which they have estimated?

That 5G test network is about a quarter behind schedule! The company now says it will run a beta trial for at least 90 days there before pushing ahead with a commercial launch in Las Vegas, possibly in early 2022.  However, the timing of commercial 5G is uncertain as per remarks by W. Erik Carlson, Dish President and Chief Executive Officer on their 2Q2021 earnings call:

“We have to see what — how our beta goes, right. So I’m going to beta test now, for service of a different sort then I think about nine months in the beta. So it depends on — we don’t think that’s where we are. But we have to get more data on the beta to know when we roll that. We want to roll — we get a first impression, and we want it to be a good first impression. Obviously we have — we do — and as soon as — everything we learn in Vegas goes directly into the other network, so we can line up it the same time. So the bottom line is that it’s going to be a minimum 90 days, and if we do our jobs correctly and our vendors do our jobs correctly, then we’re going to be ready for prime time at the first of the year.”


Dish will have 5G construction activities in Las Vegas “substantially complete” within the next 60 days and prior to the end of Q3 2021, Dave Mayo, Dish’s EVP of network development, said Monday on Dish’s Q2 2021 earnings call.

“I think we’ll be in beta for a minimum of 90 days,” said Charlie Ergen, Dish’s chairman, noting that the initial network launch there will feature Dish’s 5G core network being placed in the cloud.

Most of the traffic for the trial will run on Dish’s 5G network. But Ergen noted that the added integration of AT&T’s network in the wake of the recently signed network deal between Dish and AT&T, alongside work already underway to tie into T-Mobile’s network, is one of the reasons for the anticipated 3 month duration of the Las Vegas 5G trial. However, he expects most of the 5G network usage in Las Vegas to run on Dish’s network with AT&T’s network in support.

[Dish’s new MNVO agreement with AT&T means that their focus for the next five years can be on the FCC’s buildout requirements – 70% of each AWS-3 license by June 2025 – and they no longer need to worry after that.]

Dish has yet to announce pricing and packaging for the Las Vegas beta trial and beyond. “We will have a retail presence and we will have offers for consumers that we think will be competitive,” said Ergen. Dish is already seeking testers through its “Project Gene5is” sign-up site.

Dish has commenced 5G network construction on close to 30 “geographies” within the four regions and 36 markets being targeted via the company’s decentralized approach, said Mayo. Much of that early market activity centers on where Dish is collocated with tower companies.

“In that regard we’ve signed substantially all of the leases that are required to meet our 20% mandate for next June and have received notices to proceed on close to one-third of the sites,” said Mayo, noting that, in some cases, there are multiple geographies within a market that are being targeted.

Dish has signed tower lease agreements with each of the big four cell tower companies. Dish Network’s SEC 10-Q report states their “other long-term obligations,” which represent “minimum payments related to tower obligations, certain 5G Network Deployment commitments and satellite-related and other obligations.”

The total tower obligation is up from $8.5B last quarter to $8.8B his quarter, with the largest increase (more than $400M) now called for over the balance of 2021.

Ergen also allowed that it’s “plausible” that Dish could work with enterprise customers to help finance some of the 5G buildout, particularly among those that would use slices of Dish’s 5G network to power private networks.


Stephen Bye, EVP and chief commercial officer for Dish’s wireless business, confirmed that the deal does enable AT&T to deploy Dish’s spectrum for all customers on its network.

“We’re seeing significant traction and interest today in private networks and private 5G networks, and the architecture we’re deploying really enables a level of control and a much deeper layer of security that allows the enterprise to utilize that network for their own business operations,” said Bye.

He added that Dish is responding to multiple requests from enterprises and currently working on proof of concepts. “We’re seeing interest across every vertical and every industrial segment and we’re very well positioned to take the architecture that we’re deploying, being cloud native, but also the open architecture and the ability to do (network) slicing, it is distinctively unique compared to what the operators have in the market today.”


Dish has not announced a fixed wireless broadband for its upcoming 5G network, but Ergen said he wouldn’t rule it out amid ongoing government-backed subsidy efforts focused on unserved or underserved parts of the country.

“I think fixed wireless is a place where the wireless industry can go,” he said, citing Verizon’s and AT&T’s activity there. The amount of money being plowed into infrastructure is a “positive for all connectivity companies,” Ergen added.


Analyst and colleague Craig Moffett was not able to value Dish Network as a company, because of so many unknowns about their 5G/O-RAN efforts.  He wrote in a note to clients:

There is little one can do here to arrive at an empirically justifiable valuation. Making estimates for subscribers, ARPU, and operating margins would be, at this point, absurd; we have no basis for estimating any of those. So what’s left is merely… sentiment.

Is building a 5G network going to be a good idea? Can it be done at a reasonable cost? If one believes the answer to these questions is “yes,” then one will be positively inclined towards Dish’s equity. If not, then, well, not. It is very unlikely that we will learn anything more anytime soon. (Edited by Alan J Weissberger)



AT&T to be the primary network services provider for DISH MVNO customers

Analysis of Dish Network – AWS partnership to build 5G Open RAN cloud native network


AT&T to be the primary network services provider for DISH MVNO customers

Dish Network has announced a long-term Network Services Agreement (NSA) with AT&T, making the carrier the primary network services partner for Dish MVNO [1.] customers, including retail mobile brands such as Boost Mobile, Ting Mobile and Republic Wireless, in addition to its own new Dish 5G network.
Note 1. MVNOs do not own physical networks, but rent capacity from established mobile network operators to sell services to their customers.

The ten-year agreement, which CNBC said was worth at least $5 billion, will serve as a back-up while the company rolls out its own mobile network. Dish has relied to date mainly on the T-Mobile network, as part of the deal signed last year to acquire Boost Mobile and other assets from T-Mobile following its merger with Sprint.

AT&T will also provide transport and roaming services, to support Dish’s 5G network roll-out. Dish said it is committed to becoming the fourth facilities-based carrier in the U.S. and is aiming to bring its cloud-native, OpenRAN-based 5G network to 70% of the population by 2023.

“With an MVNO deal past 2027, Dish can focus on denser markets and leave rural to AT&T,” said MoffettNathanson principal analyst Craig Moffett. “Dish desperately needs an MVNO to fall back on past 2027, because the economics of building to rural are awful, and a network that doesn’t have rural isn’t tenable.”

Tammy Parker, Senior Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offered her opinion:

This deal is highly beneficial to AT&T as the company not only gains at least $5bn in revenue streams over the term of this ten-year agreement from new MVNO subscribers, it will also have access to DISH’s spectrum holdings to support DISH customers on the AT&T network. The NSA is not exclusive for either party, so both can go out and find new dance partners; however, given the depth and breadth of this agreement, that would appear both unlikely and unnecessary.

Both companies are poised to ride the US wireless industry’s ongoing growth wave. This is increasingly driven by the rollout of 5G, which enables faster network speeds, lower latency and new use cases, including Internet of Things services, that will result in many users having multiple wireless subscriptions. According to GlobalData’s latest forecasts, the number of unique mobile users in the US will increase by 5% over the next five years. Furthermore, total mobile subscriptions in the US will expand by more than 30% during that time and there will be nearly 692.6 million US mobile subscriptions by year-end 2026.

A fascinating part of this new arrangement is that it provides a glimpse into AT&T’s concerns regarding the possibility that DISH could sell out to another entity, perhaps even Amazon or Google. Rumors have abounded, even before DISH agreed to build its 5G network on Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) cloud platform, about possible negotiations between Amazon and DISH regarding the former’s potential use of DISH’s forthcoming 5G network to offer new services. Though there is nothing new to report there, this NSA stipulates that AT&T will be allowed to terminate the NSA in the event of a qualifying change of control of DISH. This could include a rival wireless provider, US cable company or ‘certain large technology companies’ taking over 50% more of the voting power or economic value of DISH. AT&T would still have to support DISH’s MVNO customers for up to two years after such a termination. “T-Mobile, and its Sprint network, is currently the primary MVNO partner for Boost and Republic. Ting operates on every nationwide network except AT&T. However, although DISH’s involvement saved T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint, the relationship between DISH and T-Mobile appears to have been fraught from the start. T-Mobile’s plans to shutter its 3G network by January 2022, leaving many of DISH’s customers without network service, has created an especially contentious standoff between the two companies, which likely helped pave the way for DISH’s new agreement with AT&T.”

Dish has 8.89 million retail wireless subscribers as of its last quarterly earnings report, while AT&T has more than 186 million mobile subscribers.

CNBC said that the pact is a potential precursor to a DirecTV-Dish merger since it brings AT&T and Dish closer together.  Jonathan Chaplin, an analyst at New Street Research, said in a note to clients that one of the biggest obstacles to a merger has been the notion that “AT&T hates Dish.” Some of those bad feelings stem from the botched 2007 merger, when AT&T felt Ergen had reached a handshake deal and negotiated in bad faith, according to people familiar with the deal who asked not to be named because the discussions were private.

But the telecommunications world has dramatically shifted from 2007. AT&T is no longer run by Randall Stephenson, who stepped down as CEO last year. The wireless giant is reorganizing itself around 5G and fiber networks.  AT&T could use the $5 billion Dish will give it over the next 10 years to pay down debt from its two enormous acquisitions of WarnerMedia and DirecTV.

While AT&T’s MVNO pact allows Dish to be a stronger competitor to AT&T, “getting access to Dish’s spectrum could help improve AT&T’s competitive position,” noted Chaplin, and facilitating a merger between DirecTV and Dish will help both companies.

Bringing together two competing satellite-TV providers — especially as both companies lose pay-TV customers each quarter as the world shifts to digital streaming television — would unlock billions in synergies, as satellites can be retired, duplicative jobs eliminated and competitive costs eradicated.

Still, regulators would need to feel comfortable that a Dish-DirecTV would be beneficial for consumers. While that remains uncertain, “it is a hurdle, not a barrier,” wrote Chaplin.



Analysis of Dish Network – AWS partnership to build 5G Open RAN cloud native network

On its Q1-2021 earnings call, Dish Network Chairman and Co-founder Charlie Ergen did not provide any specifics regarding Dish’s deal with Amazon/AWS or its overall plan to build a nationwide 5G Open RAN, “cloud native” core network.  Are you a bit tired of cliché’s like this:

“We’re building a Netflix in a Blockbuster world.” All Netflix did was put video on the cloud. Instead of going to a physical store, you put it in the cloud. Right. All the business plans in the world, all the numbers, all the thought if they just did something simple they put it in the cloud and the technology was they were a little ahead of the technology but the technology got there. All we’re doing is taking all those towers that you see as you drive down the highway, we basically put them in the cloud. And so instead of driving to physical store and rent a movie, you’re going to get all your data and information and automation everything from the cloud. And so it’s a dramatic paradigm shift in the way network is built and it should and it’s an advantage over legacy carriers who have 30-year-old architecture.”  Of course, that’s incorrect as almost all 5G carriers plan to build a 5G cloud native core network.

Dish is planning to build the world’s first standalone, cloud-based 5G Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN), starting with the launch of a 5G wireless network for enterprise customers in Las Vegas, NV later this year.

Dish says it will leverage AWS’s architecture and services to deploy a cloud-native 5G network that includes O-RAN—the antennas and base stations that link phones and other wireless devices to the network. Also existing in the cloud will be the 5G core, which includes all the computer and software that manages the network traffic. AWS will also power Dish’s operation and business support systems.

“Amazon has made massive investments over the years in compute storage transport and edge, [and] we’ll be sitting on top of that and as we tightly integrate telco into their infra, then we can expose APIs to their development community, which we think makes and enables third-party products and services to have network connectivity, as well as enterprise applications,” said Tom Cullen, executive VP of corporate development for Dish, explaining some of the technical details of the arrangement during Thursday’s earnings call.

Ergen reiterated Dish’s plan to spend up to $10 billion on its overall 5G network and provided milestone date for completion of the first phase of the 5G build-out.

“All of that $10 billion isn’t spent by June of 2023, which is our major milestone,” Ergen said, pointing to the company’s agreement with the U.S. government to cover at least 70% of the population with 5G no later than June 14, 2023.  However, Ergen has an escape hatch:

“The agreement we have [with the FCC] recognizes that [there could be] supply chain issues outside of our control, and that the timelines could be adjusted. But we don’t look at it that way internally. There is always unforeseen circumstances, and this one might be particularly acute. But we’re not going to let anything stop us. We’re focused on meeting our timelines, and regardless of what the challenges are. And we’ll have to reevaluate that from time to time, but we’re focused right now on Las Vegas and we’re focused on the 20% build-out by June of next year.”

“We’re not going to let anything stop us, he added.  The $10 billion “does take us through the complete (5G) buildout.”

On the 5G cloud native aspect, Ergen said:

“Yes, we anticipated a cloud native network from the beginning, he said. “So the $10 billion total build-out cost that we announced a couple of years ago–I think people are probably still skeptical … But you can see where we’re headed. Most of your models will probably take a lot of capex off the board when you understand the architecture, and we’re not going to go through all the architecture in this call, but it’s certainly has a material impact on capex.”

Dish said last week it plans to run all of its network computing functions inside the public AWS cloud – a plan that represents a dramatic break from the way most 5G networks around the world run today.  Many analysts think that’s a huge cyber-security risk as the attack surface is much greater in a virtual, cloud based network.

Marc Rouanne — Executive Vice President and Chief Network Officer:

“Yeah, the way to think of our cloud native network is a network of networks, that’s the way it’s architected. So when a customer comes to us, it’s easy for us to offer one sub network, which we can call it private network and there are techniques behind that like slicing, like automation, like software defined, so I’m not going to go into the techniques, but natively the way to think of it is really this network of networks. Right. And then, as Stephen, you’ve seen that you plan this to the postpaid customers and telling you how they would shake lose sub networks.”

Stephen Bye — Executive Vice President, Chief Commercial Officer

“Absolutely, yeah. No, I think we’ve talked to a number of customers across multiple verticals in different industry segments and is an increasing appetite in demand for the kind of network that we’re building, which is really to enable them to have more security, more control and also more visibility into the data that’s coming off the devices, so that they can control their business more effectively. So we’re seeing a terrific demand. And the network architecture, we’re putting in place actually enables and unlocks that opportunity for those enterprise customers and it’s again not restricted to any specific vertical.

We’re touching a lot of different companies and a lot of different vertical segments across the country and the other aspect of the opportunity that we see for ourselves is that while we build out a nationwide network, we are in the process of working with customers and prospective customers on private networks that are not limited by the geography of our national footprint. So we can deploy those within their environments to support their business operations as well. So the demand we’re seeing is terrific and we’re already engaged with a number of customers today.”

Ergen chimed in again:

“The cloud infrastructure as it existed a couple of years ago, really didn’t handle telco very well, there has been a lot of R&D and investment that they’ve had to make to transform their network into something that where a telco can operate in the cloud, because it’s a little bit different than their traditional IT infrastructure. And then today they are, they were best in class room for what we needed and whether it be their APIs and the documentation and discipline and vendor at the — community that supports them and their — the developers and then of course obviously reach into the enterprise business. So it was — so that’s the first and foremost.

And then the second thing I think is, is the company committed? I’m not going to put words in Amazon’s mouth, I’ll let them talk to their commitment, but they’ve done a lot of work for us to help us without knowing where they have the deal or not and very appreciative that it. I think it’s helpful that Andy will become the CEO because he’s owned this project from the start and he can — he will be able to move all the pieces within Amazon to focus on this. And so I think at the end of the day, I think we’re going to be their largest customer in cloud and I think they’re going to — they may be the largest customer in our network. I mean, but we have to build a network and prove it, and they have to build and prove it. I think that all other carriers around the world will, including the United States will look at Amazon as a real leader here because we’re just doing something different.”

Stephen Bye — Executive Vice President, Chief Commercial Officer

“Yeah. So just in terms of what the Las Vegas build looks like. I think there are several attributes that are really important to what we’re doing to build on Charlie’s comment. One is we are building a cloud native infrastructure. We are using an Open Radio Access architecture. But it’s also a 5G native network. We’re not trying to put 5G on top of 2G, 3G and 4G, the infrastructure that we’re deploying is optimized for 5G and the way we’ve designed the network from an RF perspective and a deployment perspective is to take advantage of the 5G architecture as well as the 5G platform. And so, what does that look like?

It’s basically a new network, it’s new infrastructure, it’s designed using all of the spectrum bands that we have and the RF is optimized to take advantage of that. So we’re on a path to launching that in the third quarter, but it’s one of a number of markets we have coming on. We just have announced those markets through the end of the year, but it’s the first, obviously a number that we have in flight today and we’ve got activity going on across the country to actually build out this network. So it will be the first one that people can touch and feel and get the experience, but it is really a 5G native network and we’ve proven that O-RAN from a technology perspective can work compared to that at the end of last year. Now we are in the execution phase, now we’re in the deployment phase and so you know Vegas will have to be the first one that it will be a fully deployed market that people will be able to touch and feel and experience.”

Bye added that the 5G build-out will be done in phases but the network is designed to support all customers across all segments.

5G Network End-to-End Architecture.   Image courtesy of AWS.


In a note to clients, analyst Craig Moffett said that Dish was purchasing services from AWS rather than Amazon investing in Dish’s 5G network:

“It was a purchase agreement, albeit one freighted with lots of rather fuzzy jargon, and nothing more. Notably, Verizon already has its own relationship with AWS, and theirs does call for AWS to co-market Verizon services to AWS’s enterprise customers. By contrast, the Dish agreement calls only for Dish to market AWS services to Dish’s customers, not the other way around. Objectively, it is Verizon, not Dish, that has the more strategic relationship.

Amazon isn’t likely to market a service to its customers unless they are highly confident that its quality is first rate and that its staying power is assured. Perhaps Dish will get there. But it won’t be clear that they have arrived at that point until their network is successfully serving customers… without the safety net of the T-Mobile MVNO agreement. That’s not until 2027. That feels to us like a long time to wait.”

Regarding Dish Network’s new business model, Craig said “It is now fair to say that Dish’s core business is wireless rather than satellite TV. Not by revenues, of course; the wireless business is today but the modest reseller stub of what once was Boost (Mobile). But certainly by valuation….What does matter, however, is the extent to which the satellite TV business can serve as a source of funds for financing the wireless business.”






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