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Dish Networks looks forward to 'seat at the table' in wireless

Doesn't have the capacity to go it alone as a 4G supplier...

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As LightSquared continues to battle for the right to deploy LTE in its mobile satellite spectrum, the other major holder of such frequencies, Dish Network, has remained enigmatic. However, on its third quarter earnings call, chairman Charlie Ergen enlarged somewhat on the firm's plans, saying it would use its proposed LTE-Advanced network to support mobile video services to complement its existing offerings.

Dish gained S-Band spectrum when it acquired two bankrupt mobile satellite operators – DBSD North America and TerreStar – for a total of $2.775bn. Ergen said the licences would give the firm "a seat at the table" in wireless. "We believe that the wireless business is a place where, if we're in the video business, we need to be more than fixed, we need to be a mobile video as well," he said.

Having acquired the spectrum, Dish called on the FCC to grant it a waiver – similar to LightSquared's – allowing it to run terrestrial services in satellite bands. Its 40MHz of S-Band holdings do not have the interference issues with GPS which plague LightSquared, and Dish sought to impress the regulator by promising to move directly to LTE-Advanced, potentially leapfrogging other US operators, and supporting rural broadband targets.

However, some analysts remain convinced Ergen sees the spectrum mainly as an investment and a way to gain influence over other players. It does not have enough capacity to go it alone for long as a 4G supplier, but could partner with another carrier such as Sprint to increase its overall impact on the telecoms and media market.

Ergen said he would be able to give more detail of the plans once the FCC had concluded its review of the satellite acquisitions and given permission for the DBSD and TerreStar licences to be transferred. He hinted that partnerships would be necessary, even while insisting that Dish wanted to control its own wireless destiny and that it could build a wireless business alone, with the spectrum it has.

"I think the path that's got the greatest chance of success would be to partner with others," he said. "And there could be a variety of different people that could fit that bill, some in the business today and some that aren't in the business today but would have similar motivations to us."

Copyright © 2011, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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