DISH, long-time satellite TV provider, is just beginning to roll out its long awaited 5G network to challenge AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile in the national mobile phone market. But DISH Chairman Charlie Ergen is looking at other potential terrestrial wireless business opportunities, including fixed wireless broadband to remote rural areas.
“Let's assume, if you take an extreme, that everybody had broadband and didn’t want satellite TV anymore,” Ergen (pictured here at a 2021 event) said during a recent investor call following DISH’s announcement of first quarter earnings. “We with our spectrum portfolio and our rural reach, we think that there's certainly opportunity for fixed wireless in rural America,” he said. DISH says that a majority of its satellite TV customers are in rural America.
For example, the FCC in early 2021 proposed the idea of introducing “flexible use” of the 12 GHz band to include 5G and fixed wireless broadband services. DISH and DirecTV are the major presence on 12 GHz where they provided satellite TV to 22 million households as of late 2020. However, satellite TV market shares have declined in recent years as streaming services over broadband networks have grown.
“We think [12 GHz] is the ideal frequency for that. There could be millions of customers in fixed wireless, particularly in rural America, so we're hopeful FCC will make some rulings in their order,” Ergen said.
At the same time, DISH has acquired extensive spectrum resources in bands below 12 GHz where it is building its 5G network. It launched its first 5G market earlier this month in Las Vegas. 5G networks are another potential method for wireless broadband connections to remote areas.
“We're watching closely, what T Mobile and Verizon are doing [with fixed wireless broadband]. I think it's very creative in terms of what they're doing,” Ergen said. “I think there's maybe other ways to do it depending on where you are and the [population] densities that you have.”
On May 5, Ergen and other DISH representatives met with several FCC officials to urge action on the 12 GHz rulemaking. “The 12 GHz band represents 500 megahertz of spectrum that is well-suited for terrestrial, two-way 5G use cases, while still protecting satellite operations,” the company said in an ex parte letter to the Commission.