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Dish Will Be Ready to Deploy Towers Sooner Than ‘New’ T-Mobile, NATE UNITE Panel Says

By J. Sharpe Smith, Senior Editor

There was good news for the Sprint/T-Mobile merger the other day as the state of New York said it will not appeal the federal judge’s approval of the merger. Deutsche Telekom and SoftBank also quickly reworked the deal to reflect the drop in Sprint’s value. The California Public Utilities Commission still must approve the deal, but the merger is expected to be consummated by April 1.

Tower companies, which have been adversely affected by the drop in T-Mobile spending in the last six months, are excited to move forward with the integration of the T-Mobile and Sprint networks.

But the nationwide 5G buildout by Dish will probably commence first, according to the speakers on “The View From the Top: Perspectives from Industry CEOs” at the NATE UNITE convention held this week in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“As tower owners, we are pretty pumped up [about the merger], but it is going to take a couple of quarters to transition,” said Danny Agresta, CEO of APC Towers.

Tony Peduto, CEO of CTI Towers, echoed Agresta, “Anyone with towers is saying, ‘This is great,’ but the question is when will it be great?” He predicted that Dish would launch its network late in the second or early in the third quarter.

Dish Wireless, which still needs to sign a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) agreement with T-Mobile, is now a bona fide fourth carrier that must build out a network using some 50,000 macro towers at a reported cost of $10 billion. And, according to Peduto and Agresta, the carrier is positioned to begin that surge.

“Dish has done an amazing job in terms of getting data from tower companies,” Peduto said. “Both Danny and I have summitted information, and it has gone through a scrub. From my company’s standpoint, Dish will come out of the blocks first. They have license preservation step that must be completed to keep their spectrum. They are going to start deploying relatively quickly.”

Agresta said Dish has all the ingredients to “bake the cake.” With the T-Mobile MVNO deal, Sprint’s towers and U.S. prepaid wireless businesses Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, he predicted Dish is ready to go.

“Dish has 400 job openings listed on its website,” Agresta said. “They have acquired all different types of data from all different types of tower companies and will be ready to roll sooner.”

SoftBank Backing Energizes Sprint’s Network Vision Buildout

Wells Fargo analysts met with Sprint senior management and investors at its Kansas headquarters at the end of August and came away feeling the overwhelming presence of SoftBank, which paid $21.6 billion for a 72 percent stake on July 10.

“A consistent message was that both SoftBank and Sprint are focused on building a world class wireless network and company,” Jennifer Fritzsche, Wells Fargo senior analyst wrote in and equity research note.  “The discussion at Sprint has clearly shifted from doing the least expensive option to a focus on aggressive network growth and expansion.”

Sprint’s spectrum holdings at 2.5 GHz and the Softbank relationship are crucial to competing in the LTE race, according to Dan Hesse, Sprint CEO, said during the carrier’s second quarter earnings call at the end of July.

“The Softbank transaction brings us capital and expertise that can accelerate our turnaround,” Hesse said. “We believe, with the combination of our existing network modernization efforts, the addition of the complementary Clearwire spectrum, and scale from the Softbank transaction, we can over time build a powerful network and a much stronger competitor.”

Sprint’s 2.5 GHz deployment has been slowed by DISH’s bid for Clearwire and will be pushed from late 2013 to 2014, Hess told the analysts.

“Sprint cited many examples of tangible network improvement it is seeing in areas where LTE/Network Vision has been launched (i.e. Chicago) but it does not expect to make a big marketing push on a national level until sometime next year,” Fritzsche wrote.

At the time the sale was closed with Sprint, Clearwire had 2,000 TD-LTE sites commissioned and a number of others under construction, which will become part of the Network Vision system in the second half of 2013.

“The hope (and plan) is that Sprint will have network parity vs. its peers in 2014 and a network advantage in 2015,” Fritzsche wrote.

Sprint launched a Novatel Wireless handset in July, which uses 2.5 GHz, as well as the 800 MHz and 1.9 GHz bands.

“As it relates to expanding LTE on 2.5 GHz, the Sprint Network plan will be to add the 2.5 gigahertz radios to our network to increase capacity and performance for our customers. And we expect to start seeing tri-band LTE smartphones later this year,” Steve Elfman, president, network operations and wholesale, said on the earnings call.

DISH, Ntelos Test LTE-to-the-Home

It’s easy to find people that don’t trust DISH Network’s Charlie Ergen, but it’s hard not to get titillated by some of the technology plays that he brings to Sprint and Clearwire. To Sprint, he brings a multimedia package – mobile and fixed video, voice, and data. Additionally, his company brings a fixed-broadband wireless play using spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band, which would complement the spectrum holdings of both Sprint and Clearwire.

The week, DISH and nTelos Wireless, a rural wireless provider, announced the commencement of a fixed broadband wireless test in rural Virginia using LTE technology, with speeds ranging from 20 Mbps to more than 50 Mbps.

As part of the demonstration, two wireless tower test sites were activated in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Waynesboro and Afton, Va. BandRich ruggedized outdoor routers with built-in high-gain antennas were installed on the roofs of the homes to receive the signal. Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent provided equipment and assisted in the installation.

The final story has yet to be written of the DISH/Sprint/Clearwire/Softbank merger-palooza. But with a significant portion of households in rural America underserved by wireline broadband, a fixed wireless LTE solution just might find a home in the country, no matter who provides it.

DISH Press Release

DISH, Ntelos Test LTE-to-the-Home

It’s easy to find people that don’t trust DISH Network’s Charlie Ergen, but it’s hard not to get titillated by some of the technology plays that he brings to Sprint and Clearwire. To Sprint, he brings a multimedia package – mobile and fixed video, voice, and data. Additionally, his company brings a fixed-broadband wireless play using spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band, which would complement the spectrum holdings of both Sprint and Clearwire.

The week, DISH and nTelos Wireless, a rural wireless provider, announced the commencement of a fixed broadband wireless test in rural Virginia using LTE technology, with speeds ranging from 20 Mbps to more than 50 Mbps.

As part of the demonstration, two wireless tower test sites were activated in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Waynesboro and Afton, Va. BandRich ruggedized outdoor routers with built-in high-gain antennas were installed on the roofs of the homes to receive the signal. Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent provided equipment and assisted in the installation.

The final story has yet to be written of the DISH/Sprint/Clearwire/Softbank merger-palooza. But with a significant portion of households in rural America underserved by wireline broadband, a fixed wireless LTE solution just might find a home in the country, no matter who provides it.

DISH Press Release