For all the talk about how we don’t have enough competition in wireless, one willing competitor is finding it hard to force the door open enough to slip in. Dish Network and its Chairman, Charlie Ergen, have been trying to shoulder their way into the space for more than a year now, and according to the WSJ today the FCC is about to add some weight to the other side of the door once again.
Dish has been asking the FCC to reclassify the satellite spectrum it owns for use in building out an LTE network, but the FCC has not been interested in rushing matters. According to the WSJ and others, the actual decision may come down in a way unfavorable to DISH by restricting power use in part of the company’s spectrum so that it can auction off H block spectrum to others, e.g. Sprint.
And the company has been rumored to be courting Google as a way to build out a wireless network. While Google might have considered the possibility in a pre-Softbank/Sprint and pre-TMobile/MetroPCS world, the likelihood of such drastic action seems much lower now. Google simply wants there to be options and a market process to keep prices low for data, and if it can get that much it doesn’t need to build its own. Dish also reportedly made a bid for MetroPCS but was rebuffed before T-Mobile managed to get the alternative carrier to agree to terms.
The bottom line seems to be that the FCC and the industry have decided that four is the perfect number and if DISH wants in it will probably have to be as a partner of one of those and stop trying to become the fifth. The obvious candidate would be T-Mobile USA, which could use both the spectrum and the mojo despite its resurgent interest in the US under new leader John Legere.
Then you wind up with the big two (Verizon, AT&T), a Softbank-controlled Sprint with Clearwire soon tucked under its wing, and DT/MetroPCS/DISH ready to play the role of insurgent. Of course that would be riskier than, say, selling the spectrum to AT&T. But Ergen seems to really want a bigger piece of the pie than he will ever get a chance at that way.
So unless their last ditch attempt to shoulder the door open succeeds, that’s where I see DISH taking its spectrum to as a backup. But you’ve got to feel for Ergen… The man wants to build a wireless network despite the fact that everyone says the economics in a world of data traffic growth look painful, but nobody will let him try.