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.”
“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.”
Light Reading’s Mike Dano, says there is a contentious issue of whether 5G networks should be permitted to use the 12 GHz band. Apparently, the clash is between Charlie Erdogan’s Dish Network and Dell (YES) vs AT&T and Elon Musk’s SpaceX (NO).
Interestingly, 12 GHz (more precisely 12.2-12.7 GHz Band ) is NOT one of the frequency bands in the revision to ITU Recommendation M.1036-6, which specifies ALL frequency bands for the TERRESTRIAL component of IMT (including IMT 2020).
–>Please refer to Editor’s Note below for more on the M.1036 revision which may contain a cop-out clause to permit use of any frequency for IMT 2020.SPECS. Mike Dano wrote:
According to at least one high-level source involved in the debates, the FCC might make some kind of ruling on the topic as soon as December. A senior FCC official confirmed that the agency is considering allowing 5G in 12GHz, but declined to comment on whether the item would be addressed during the FCC’s December meeting. Based on the increasingly contentious filings on the topic, it certainly appears that the fight over 12GHz is escalating.
In the U.S., the FCC exhaustively licensed the 12.2-12.7 GHz band in 2004-2005 timeframe through competitive bidding. The US terrestrial fixed licenses are co-primary with Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) and Non-Geostationary Orbit Fixed Satellite Service (NGSO FSS). In April 2016, a petition was filed seeking license modifications under section 316 to permit terrestrial mobile use in the band. Although the petition went through public notice/comment phases, no decisive action has been taken yet. Meanwhile, in August, 2017, FCC issued an inquiry into new opportunities in the mid-band spectrum between 3.7 GHz and 24 GHz. The combination of favorable propagation characteristics (as compared to bands above 24 GHz) and the opportunity for additional channel bandwidth (as compared to bands below 3.7 GHz), raises the potential of these bands to be used for next generation wireless services.
“The time has finally come for the commission to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM),” wrote RS Access this week in a filing to the FCC. Dell’s private money management firm backs RS Access, which owns 12GHz licenses and has been pushing for rules allowing 5G operations in the band. An NPRM by the FCC would signal a formal effort to decide on the matter, potentially sometime next year.
“Given the twin national imperatives of bringing spectrum to its highest and best use while unleashing spectrum for broadband connectivity, issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will allow debate to move from hollow rhetoric to the types of pragmatic solutions the country needs to accelerate 5G investment and innovation,” echoed Dish Network in its FCC filing.
AT&T and SpaceX are firmly against the idea of the FCC taking action. Instead, they argue that 5G operations in the 12 GHz band would affect their existing activities in 12GHz (AT&T’s DirecTV satellite TV service uses a portion of the band, as does SpaceX’s Starlink satellite Internet service).
“The parties urged the commission to deny the MVDDS Petition [a coalition including Dish and RS Access] for rulemaking outright or, at most, to issue a notice of inquiry rather than a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking given the current state of the record in this proceeding,” wrote AT&T and SpaceX – along with Amazon’s Kepler Communications, satellite companies Intelsat and SES, and bankrupt OneWeb – in their joint FCC filing. A note at the end stated: “See MVDDS 5G Coalition Petition for Rulemaking to Permit MVDDS Use of the 12.2-12.7 GHz Band for Two-Way Mobile Broadband Service, RM-11768 (filed Apr. 26, 2016) (“MVDDS Petition”).”
12 GHz proponents were hoping the FCC would discuss that issue at its November meeting. That’s unlikely as the main agenda item for that meeting will be to free up the 5.9GHz band for unlicensed operations as well as vehicle-to-vehicle communications using the C-V2X standard.
Dano concludes as follows:
The heavyweights involved in the 12 GHz proceeding are pulling out all the stops in the hopes they can get the FCC to act on one last contentious piece of spectrum policy before Biden begins his first term or President Trump begins his second. After all, Trump’s current FCC chairman, Pai, has not said whether he will stay on at the agency for Trump’s second term.
Editor’s Note: IMT 2020 Frequency Free for All?
At the conclusion of its Oct 2020 meeting, ITU-R WP5D could NOT agree on revision of draft recommendation M.1036-6 which specifies frequency arrangements to be used with the terrestrial component of IMT, including IMT 2020.SPECS. So that document has yet to be sent to ITU-R SG5 for approval.
The 5D Frequency Aspects WG Oct 2020 report stated:
“The current version of the draft revision with these further proposed edits is contained in document 5D/TEMP/243(Rev.1) and Editor’s Notes have been included in the document to clarify the current situation.”
“Looking at the current situation with some of the critical and urgent deliverables of WG Spectrum Aspects & WRC-23 Preparations, it is clear that whilst progress has been made in some less controversial areas, there are a significant number of areas where very diverging and sometimes polarized views remain. It is the view of the WG Chair that the current situation with such polarized views and no room for compromise solutions is disappointing and that we cannot continue with this approach at the next meeting if we want to be successful in completing these critical outputs by the required deadlines. We must all put more efforts into finding efficient ways to advance the discussions and in particular to focus on middle ground and compromise solutions rather than repeating initial positions.”
Furthermore, the UNAPPROVED draft revision to M.1036-6 has several cop-outs. For example:
“That Recommendations ITU‑R M.1457, ITU‑R M.2012 and ITU‑R M.[IMT-2020.SPECS] contain external references to information on operating bands for IMT technologies which may go beyond the information in Recommendation ITU-R М.1036 and may cover broader frequency ranges as well as further uplink/downlink combinations” OR for ONLY IMT 2020.SPECS:
“That Recommendations ITU‑R M.[IMT-2020.SPECS] contains external references to information on operating bands for IMT technologies which may go beyond the information in Recommendation М.1036 and may cover broader frequency ranges as well as further uplink/downlink combinations.”
Note also, that the hotly debated 12 GHz frequency band the Dish and Dell are proposing for 5G is NOT contained in the draft revision to ITU-R M.1036-6. But the cop-out disclaimer above, would permit 12 GHz and any other frequency to be used for IMT 2020, which would obviously negate the purpose and intent of that ITU recommendation.
5G O-RAN Network Progress, but no deployment schedule:
Dish Network President & CEO W. Erik Carlson said on Friday’s earnings call that the company was making progress in “building the nation’s first O-RAN compliant 5G network and since the last call we’ve named several key vendors including Altiostar, OpenRAN, Mavenir, Fujitsu, and VMware.” However, the completion date and deployment schedule were not revealed.
Charlie Ergen, Dish Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board, added that there’s a lot of excitement about O-RAN radios and the path that Dish is taking there. He said that Mavenir is doing some of the software for the baseband distribution unit and that VMware enables Dish to “stitch together the cloud” with its 5G O-RAN based network. Containers and micro services are being used in this implementation, but exactly how was not revealed or discussed.
Highlighting VMware’s contribution to the 5G O-RAN project, Ergen said:
“But when you put all that together, you got to make it work and you got to make it work on different cloud providers and private clouds, and VMware allows us to horizontally go across the stack and stitch that stuff together. And the way we look at partnerships, VMware has done a lot of work for us already even before we signed the contract with them.
They’re learning a lot about Telco and O-RAN and so they’re getting a real R&D sandbox to play in and they’re making our business better and we’re making their business better. So it’s a really, really good win-win for both companies and they’ve been a tremendous vendor even before we signed a contract with them.
So the big picture thing is there is nothing — there is nothing that stops us from building really the best network in the United States. There is no law of physics — there’s no law of physics, there is no technology that really hasn’t changed. It’s really execution. It’s really execution risk for us and our vendors to make it happen. But we’re not reinventing science, we’re not reinventing anything. We’re just taking really good cloud providers and software providers and making what has been a very clunky, hardware-centered highly operational cost environment, very similar to data centers 20 to 30 years ago.
We’re going to make it (5G O-RAN) into a modern network. So everything exists to do that. And we’re just going to go do it. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about it externally because everybody is going to be skeptical up until we light it up and then people will have their opinion about it. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
Dish’s Other Wireless Network Businesses:
Earlier this week, Dish acquired Ting Mobile and announced a partnership with Tucows on technology services. The company acquired T-Mobile assets including customer relationships and the brand in order to support Ting Mobile customers.
Dish closed the Boost Mobile acquisition (from T-Mo, but actually it was owned by Sprint) on July 1st and will report Boost results for the first time in the third quarter. The company will report Boost results in their Wireless segment and will disclose key metrics such as ARPU and subscriber data at that time. As part of the T-Mo/Sprint merger, Dish also acquired $3.6 billion of 800 MHz spectrum, which was Sprint’s entire 800 MHz spectrum holdings.
Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson had this comment about Dish’s wireless business:
“Yes, they’ve chosen VMware and few other vendors. And small, private tower operators report some Dish activity – Dish sensibly seems to be focusing on smaller towercos first, as the majors will have more negotiating leverage and will therefore drive a harder bargain. And, sure, they’ve now bought Ting, a small operator to augment their Boost business (these pre-paid businesses were acquired after the end of the just-reported second quarter).
But they still haven’t started materially building. And they still haven’t found a strategic partner. They still haven’t gone to the capital markets for financing. And they still haven’t changed their capex guidance for wireless for this year – a paltry $250 to $500M, excluding capitalized interest.
Nor have they changed their longer term guidance of $10B to build a virtualized network, a number that we no longer have to caveat by saying we don’t believe.
Save for some slowly escalating wireless spending as they continue to gradually hire the people they’ll need to run the business – although even that is going far more slowly than one would expect – we’re left with a satellite business, and only a satellite business (OK, also an OTT business) in Q2 results.”
Craig, along with many analysts (including this author) believe Dish could take steps to unlock value by selling some or all of its significant spectrum assets. Dish has a long history of buying spectrum and doing nothing with it. As FierceWireless wrote last year, “Dish has spent roughly $20 billion over the past decade to amass a significant spectrum portfolio, and has roughly 95 MHz of low-band and mid-band spectrum per market.” That was before Dish bought Sprint’s entire 800 MHz (low band) spectrum assets, which are not included in this graph:
Dish has promised the FCC that it “will deploy a facilities-based 5G broadband network capable of serving 70% of the US population by June 2023 and has requested that its spectrum licenses be modified to reflect those commitments.” Dish would have to pay fines of up to $2.2 billion if it fails to meet its 5G deployment deadlines.
Dish Network’s massive bet on deploying wireless spectrum it owns overshadows its declining cash-cow satellite television business. Dish reported a net loss of 40,000 net satellite television customers, half the figure a year ago as far fewer accounts deactivated service. The firm’s customer base likely skews towards customers that place less value on live sports and more on news coverage, which has delivered strong ratings during the pandemic and protests. Dish also lost (net) 56,000 Sling customers, better than the 281,000 lost the prior quarter, which had come following a large price increase at the start of the year. Price increases fueled a 7% year-over-year increase in average revenue per customer, roughly offsetting customer losses as total revenue declined 0.8%.
Moreover, Dish isn’t likely to become a full-fledged nationwide wireless network competitor, because Dish’s plan is only to cover 70 percent of the US population by June 2023. That could leave 100 million Americans without the option of a fourth wireless carrier (behind Verizon, AT&T, and the new T-Mo). Finally, the whole O-RAN concept is unproven with no liaison arrangements between the ITU or 3GPP and either of the two O-RAN spec writing entities – the O-RAN Alliance (which Dish is implementing) and the TIP Open RAN project.
Dish’s plan of covering 70 percent of the 327 million people in the U.S. isn’t impressive compared to the major carriers’ current 4G LTE coverage, which is important because carriers admit that 5G won’t be much faster than 4G in rural areas where millimeter-wave deployments aren’t viable. Outside densely populated areas, Verizon says that 5G speeds will merely be like “good 4G.”
We are also of the opinion, that Dish’s physical 5G deployment costs will be much more than Dish has budgeted and can not be financed without Dish having to borrow significant amounts of money from the credit markets or partner companies..
Dish Network has acquired the assets of MVNO Ting Mobile, including its customer relationships, from Tucows, for an undisclosed amount. Under the deal, most Ting Mobile customers across the US will become Dish customers from August. The customers will be able to access the new T-Mobile US network, continue using their own phones and keep their rates and customer experience, Dish said. Tucows remains the owner of the Ting Mobile tech stack.
The deal follows Dish’s recent entry on the mobile market through the acquisition of Sprint’s prepaid brand Boost Mobile. Started eight years ago, Ting also focuses on the prepaid market, targeting cost-conscious mobile users. Ting said it expects the deal to help Dish “disrupt the retail wireless market and become a major competitor in the US mobile industry.”
Here’s what the news means for Ting Mobile customers:
· No data migration, service interruption or billing changes
· The same great customer service with the same Ting Mobile team managing the service/running the business
· A renewed ability for Ting Mobile to innovate on price, staying true to its roots
John Swieringa, Group President, Retail Wireless and DISH COO:
“Today, we welcome Ting Mobile customers to DISH. Ting Mobile is a great brand that stands for better value in wireless, and we are eager to begin delivering our award-winning customer service to Ting subscribers. Our agreement with Tucows will accelerate our digital and operational capabilities in wireless. Elliot and his team have a strong track record as entrepreneurs and innovators, and we are excited to partner with them on our wireless venture.”
Tucows has separately launched Mobile Services Enabler (MSE) services, with Dish as its first customer. Tucows will going forward focus on growing its MSE business, delivering a wide range of functions such as billing, activation, provisioning, and funnel marketing to mobile providers. Tucows has more than 24 million domain names under management on its platform through a global reseller network of over 36,000 web hosts and ISPs.