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Dish: Will It Buy Or Sell?

Dish is coming up against a hard deadline. Sometime in 2016, it must begin building out a cellular network in spectrum that it owns in the AWS-4 band. The band consists of 2,000–2,020MHz and 2,180-2,200MHz satellite spectrum repurposed for terrestrial service.

Dish could undertake the build out on its own or try to buy carrier T-Mobile to tap its expertise. A bid for T-Mobile would be in keeping with Dish’s unsuccessful attempts in 2013 to buy Sprint and Clearwire to tap their expertise and achieve wireless economies of scale, or so Dish said at the time.

Deutsche Telekom, which owns 67 percent of T-Mobile, would be interested in selling at the right price, having already expressed interest in Sprint’s 2014 bid for T-Mobile. Sprint declined to go through with the bid after federal regulators informally objected.

Dish has said it wants to diversify beyond its mature satellite-TV business and possibly use wireless spectrum to offer triple-play packages combining home phone and broadband service with satellite-TV service. Dish could also deliver subscription-TV content to smartphones if it secures such rights.

A merger of T-Mobile and Dish would make sense because it brings together two similarly positioned companies, which focus on value and price.

Then again, Dish might be willing to sell off its spectrum to other carriers, given the rising valuation of spectrum highlighted in the recent auction of AWS-3 spectrum (1,695-1,710MHz uplink band and the paired 1,755-1,780MHz uplink and 2,155-2,180MHz downlink bands). Dish affiliates spent $13.3 billion to come away from that auction with about 25MHz of spectrum.

In about a year’s time, we’ll know what Dish really wants to do.