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Dish: We Have Time To Build Out Wireless

Englewood, Colo. — Dish Network isn’t pressed for time to launch wireless service and is in a “good position strategically,” chairman/CEO Charlie Ergen said during a conference call with analysts and press.

For its AWS-4 2-2.2GHz satellite spectrum repurposed for terrestrial use, Dish has until 2017 to build out the network to reach 40 percent of the population in its licensed areas, Ergen said. If that milestone is missed, Dish’s timetable for completing the build-out accelerates to 2020 from 2021, he said.

For the 1695-1710MHz AWS-3 spectrum that it won recently at auction, Dish has 12 years to build out the network from the time it is issued licenses, which could be issued in midyear. Dish also faces an interim milestone that it did not mention.

Dish has “lots of battles ahead of us,” Ergen said of the build-out, contending that when competition is on the horizon, “the big guys try to stop you.” Competing carriers will go to the 3GPP international standards-setting group to prevent the group from approving Dish’s bands for use in handsets, and carriers will lobby handset vendors to keep Dish’s bands out, he said. “Once 3GPP approves the bands, then we’ll build out,” he said.

On other wireless topics, Ergen acknowledged that Dish has many options for its spectrum, including selling or leasing some to carriers that need it, but Dish’s “dream” is still to enter the marketplace “and provide meaningful competition,” he said. “Hopefully we’re going to use it,” he said.

Another option is participation in 2016’s 600MHz broadcast-TV incentive auctions. Ergen said he hopes to participate but cautioned that he doesn’t yet know if Dish can afford to participate, having used most of its cash on its balance sheet for the latest auction.

Dish is also open to buying 2.5GHz spectrum from Sprint if it decided to sell some to raise cash, but it “depends on price,” he said, noting that the higher band spectrum “is not as attractive” as lower band spectrum.

Whenever Dish launches service, video will be a “core component” of its wireless offerings, he said. Dish’s Sling TV over-the-top (OTT) live-TV and on-demand service, which starts at $20/month, is a “precursor” to offering live TV to cellphones, he said. The next generation of consumers will watch as much TV on a phone, tablet or PC as they do on a big-screen TV, he said.

Content providers are eager to offer their TV channels to OTT services, Ergen said, because they want to reach people who aren’t paying for TV today and who might in the future upgrade to cable, satellite or telco-provided TV services.

Sling TV, launched commercially two weeks ago, is progressing as expected, said Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch. It’s reaching people who don’t have pay TV, and this is skewing younger and male, he said.

Sony’s plans for OTT service, Ergen noted, is a “more comprehensive” OTT service that will be a direct replacement for cable and satellite TV and “apt to be more disruptive” than Sling TV.

In other Sling TV comments, Executive VP R. Stanton Dodge Lynch noted that if either Comcast or Time Warner closed their broadband networks to Sling TV, “the business would still be viable,” but if Comcast and Time Warner merged and shut out Sling TV to more than half of broadband households, “Sling TV wouldn’t make it.”

Lynch noted that Comcast and Time Warner control 19 of the top 20 markets, where Sling’s main opportunity resides.