Dish – The New Broadband Player

Dish Network has been quietly building out its new cellular networks and plans to launch in 25 major markets and over one hundred smaller markets before June of this year. This company is shooting to stay on track for its commitment to the FCC to cover 20% of the U.S. population by this summer and 70% by June of next year. The company is running about six months behind its hoped-for schedule but says it is catching up.

The twenty-five markets include Albuquerque, Charlotte, Cleveland,  Columbus, Dallas, El Paso, Ft Worth, Houston, Hartford, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Nashville, Norfolk, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Richmond, Raleigh-Durham, Reno, Rochester, Salt Lake City, Spokane, Springfield, MA, St. Louis, Stockton, Syracuse, and Virginia Beach. Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen says the company is still on track to spend about $10 billion to meet its roll-out commitments.

The company says that it will have the most advanced network in the country, which makes sense since everything will be new. For example, Dish intends to hit the market with Voice over New Radio (VoNR) – a technology that ensures that voice calls using an IP connection don’t drop when customers roam between cell sites.

Dish still says that it intends to be ‘disruptive’ in its cellular pricing – and I guess we’ll soon find out what that means. We already have a hint about pricing from Dish’s prices through Boost Mobile. The company’s plans all include unlimited voice and text and vary by the amount of broadband purchased. The company sells 1 GB of data for $10 per month and 10 GB for $35 per month. The most expensive product is 35 GB of cellular data plus 30 GB of hotspot tethering for $60 per month.

Dish has a beta test of its new network operating in Las Vegas that is being used only by friends and family. The company’s engineers say they have been working out a few bugs, but that network performance looks to be what they were expecting. Dish still faces a few hurdles. One is to make sure that there are plenty of phones available that use its frequency bands – something that is always a challenge any time a new cellular frequency is introduced in the market. The company will outsource its 911 functions, which it admits doesn’t give it as much control as it would like – but that sort of detail is to be expected with a company that is going from nothing to a nationwide launch in a short time.

There is an expectation that Dish will join the other big cellular carriers and offer fixed cellular broadband products. I think this is going to be a disruptive product in urban areas since it can deliver 100 Mbps broadband for the same prices being charged today for DSL. In addition to the Dish launch, T-Mobile has been pushing fixed mobile broadband and sold over 500,000 customers last year. T-Mobile is pushing for millions of new customers this year. Verizon will be pushing fixed mobile broadband everywhere by the end of the summer. And the big cable companies, including Comcast, Charter, and Altice, are selling inexpensive cellular connections in metropolitan markets. Fixed cellular broadband isn’t going to only disrupt cities. This is becoming the fastest broadband available to a lot of rural customers who happen to live near a rural cell site. I recently talked to a farmer who is getting almost 200 Mbps on T-Mobile fixed cellular – he’s lucky enough to sit next to a new tower, which is still undersubscribed. But I’m hearing good things about the T-Mobile product from all around the country.

This is all good news for consumers. But don’t expect to see anything other than cellular ads when you watch a sporting event or popular show this fall. We’re likely to see a cellular advertising war like nothing we’ve seen before. It’s fairly obvious that in a market with 95% cellphone penetration not all of these companies are going to be winners. The companies with the most to lose are Verizon and AT&T – so they’ll advertise non-stop as well.