Charlie Ergen, the wireless industry’s version of the international man of mystery, outlined his two-phase, IoT followed by 5G, plan for deploying his bountiful spectrum portfolio before a packed audience at the Connectivity Expo, Connect (x), conducted by the Wireless Infrastructure Association, this week in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was interviewed by Former FCC Commissioner, now with Cooley LLP, Rob McDowell in a keynote session.
“We are in a bit of an awkward position with only 5 megahertz of spectrum for uplink that has been cleared nationwide in the H Band, so we will go through two phases,” said Ergen, co-founder and chairman of Dish Network. “In the first phase we will build a nationwide network for narrowband IoT and in the second phase we will build a complete 5G network.”
Ergen began buying spectrum 15 years ago and in the last three auctions was the highest bidder. He pins his hopes on the timing of the network deployment.
“It’s all about timing; too early you are roadkill, if you get it just right you have a chance,” Ergen said. “We missed the 4G shift because of the regulatory reasons. The next big paradigm shift is 5G.”
Narrowband IoT Network Build
Facing an FCC-imposed deadline of a little more than 650 days, Ergen is focused on moving forward with IoT network building. Radios have been ordered, the core network will be built out this summer and testing will begin this fall, with the help of multiple partnerships in the industry. It will cost between $500 million and $1 billion.
“We are new. We have never built a terrestrial network before,” he said. “We are not the world’s experts, but have an open mind and we will partner with people who do know how.” Dish has signed master lease agreements with tower companies and is partnering with companies in the wireless infrastructure industry to do permitting, RF planning and design of the network.
5G Broadband Network Build
When the narrowband IoT network is built, Ergen will shift his focus to the 5G network, which he said will cost $10 billion to build. He believes his timing is just right. Dish will use just under 100 megahertz, combining low-band 600 MHz and mid-band spectrum at 2 GHz, for the network. The 600 MHz spectrum will not be cleared until July of 2020, the same year 3GPP will complete the 5G standard.
Ergen said he will use additional spectrum that comes on the market, conceivably millimeter wave, for the small cell component.
“We don’t think it is the right thing to do to use the same frequencies for small cells that we do in macrocells, because there are interference issues there,” he said.
Additionally, Dish has been pushing the FCC to include the Multichannel Video Distribution and Data Service (MVDDS) spectrum in the 12.2 to 12.7 GHz band in the 5G Spectrum Frontiers allocation. That is 500 megahertz of spectrum and will be easy to repurpose, according to Ergen, because it has only two incumbents: DirecTV and Dish Network.
What Did We Learn?
Charlie’s plain-spoken style belies his closet-to-the-vest approach to discussing his company’s plans. He is at once self deprecating and confident. We learned a little more about the timeline for the narrowband IoT network buildout. He spoke a lot about partnerships but divulged none of them. His apparent seat-of-the-pants, startup approach, however, may be a perfect fit for the 5G.
Ergen has the heart of an entrepreneur and he compared building out 5G to the challenges he faced revolutionizing the satellite industry. “Adventure,” he said, is part of his corporate culture.
“We have two disadvantages; We don’t [have many] customers and we are not as knowledgeable as other people in the business, but we don’t have the legacy of 2G, 3G, 4G switch networks. We have a clean sheet of paper with 5G,” he said. “It reminds me of 1990 when we decided to reinvent ourselves from the big dish business to small dish. It took 5 years to design and build that system with not one penny of revenue, and we obsoleted the business we were in.
“When we got into satellites, we didn’t know anything about it, but neither did anyone else. It is the same with 5G/IoT. We are not the world’s experts, but neither is anyone else,” Ergen added.
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence. Sharpe Smith may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.