Dish Network and Crown Castle today announced a long-term agreement through which Crown Castle will lease Dish space on up to 20,000 cell towers. As part of the agreement, Dish will receive certain fiber transport services and also have the option to use Crown Castle for pre-construction services. The agreement encompasses leases on towers located nationwide, helping DISH facilitate its buildout of the first open, standalone and virtualized 5G network in the United States.
“We view this deal as positive for Crown Castle and for the tower sector more broadly,” wrote Spencer Kurn, analyst, New Street Research. “Crown Castle accounts for 30 percent of the U.S. tower market, which could suggest that Dish intends to build to 65,000 towers if Dish’s network build is evenly distributed across the tower companies.
“We suspect this announcement implies that Dish will prioritize Crown Castle towers wherever they have a choice, which could mean that Crown Castle captures greater share of Dish’s cell sites,” Kurn added. “Still, it seems that DISH plans to build to more than the 50,000 that we had assumed for their initial phase, so all of the towers are likely better off than we initially expected.”
Crown Castle is the first infrastructure partnership Dish has announced. Over the past several months, DISH has made several wireless vendor announcements, including software, core, BSS/OSS, and 5G radios. These agreements provide a clear path toward Dish’s rollout of a nationwide 5G network.
“The announcement of Crown Castle as our first tower partner marks an important milestone for Dish as we set our sights on building a first of its kind 5G network in the United,” said Dave Mayo, Dish executive VP of network development. “Crown Castle brings the experience and broad tower portfolio we need, from major markets to more rural areas, to help Dish bring to life the promise of our standalone, nationwide 5G network.”
Dish has estimated that it will need 15,000 cell sites in the near term, and it has access to 20,000 T-Mobile/Sprint as they are eventually decommissioned. To keep its spectrum, Dish is required to cover 20 percent of U.S. population by June 2022 and 70 percent by June 2023
“Dish has historically been a wild card with the tower companies, with plans to build an IoT network but no real activity to date,” wrote Eric Luebchow, senior analyst, Wells Fargo Securities. “We view this agreement with CCI as the first evidence of Dish proverbially putting its money where its mouth is.”