DISH Network Founder Charlie Ergen was the highlight speaker at NRTC’s TechConnect 2017 conference in Jekyll Island, GA, as the conference wrapped up the week’s business and technology sessions yesterday. In an interview setting with NRTC CEO Tim Bryan, Ergen covered several topics, including the over-the-top video and satellite broadband/TV businesses, future 5G wireless opportunities and the growing “killer app” of broadband connectivity.
To NRTC members Ergen advised looking for ways to enter businesses like wireless broadband and internet of things (IoT). Service providers in rural America “are pretty well positioned” for the future because they already have deployed some of the necessary infrastructure. There’s no reason why telephone companies providing wired voice and data service can’t look for ways to provide wireless services. There’s no reason why electric companies can’t build communications businesses based on remote sensors, he said.
Technologies are naturally combining and converging as they advance. Broadband connectivity is making new business models and service bundles possible. DISH, for example, bundles satellite TV with satellite broadband through its HughesNet service.
“The killer app is not that I’m trying to sell you satellite broadband. The killer app is not that I’m trying to sell you satellite TV,” Ergen said. “It’s that I’m selling you the thing you can’t get outside the city, which is connectivity. The killer app is something like Amazon, because you don’t want to drive 30 miles to Walmart. You’d rather have it come to your doorstep.”
Broadband connectivity is already widespread, but it is becoming increasingly an increasingly big part of everyday life each year. “It’s similar to the electrical side of it. We already have connectivity to the electric grid. As people in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have learned, it’s tough to live without power,” he said. “Equally important will be connectivity to bits: zeros and ones. That will be as important to people going forward as electricity.”
Bryan noted that DISH has steadily acquired spectrum over several years to become one of the largest spectrum holders in the nation. He asked about the company’s plans for that capacity. Ergen acknowledged that DISH has entered every spectrum auction for the last 17 years and that it has acquired more licenses than anybody over the last three auctions.
DISH’s goal, again, is connectivity, he said. 5G technology for IoT is advancing quickly. Extensive deployments of small cell wireless networks and sensor devices will make autonomous cars, energy efficiency, creative forms of automation and home networks possible, but only if 5G is everywhere, including rural America.
Ergen predicted that the first “real 5G” services will roll out in the early 2020s after worldwide organizations complete common 5G standards and integrated circuit manufacturers develop chips over the next three years. Once in place, the increased demand for capacity and advanced applications will drive the need for backhaul systems to deliver data back to the internet. That will include wireless backhaul, which will be especially important in rural areas. He recommended backhaul to companies looking for communications investments.
Overall, Ergen acknowledged that building advanced technologies in rural America is tough, but that it holds out opportunities. “I’m an optimist. I’ve always found that for every strategy there is a counter strategy and no matter what, there is going to be competition,” he said.