Dish’s mobile business really needs a boost

Dish Network kept its third quarter results announcement short and sweet, which is unsurprising given that it is losing customers, spending money, and dragging its feet on its 5G launch.

The US operator reported a 2% on-year revenue decline in the three months to the end of September to US$4.45 billion, while EBITDA was down by 5.5% to $915.6 million, although the company did get a boost in net profit.

While revenue at Dish Network’s core – for the moment, at least – pay TV business increased slightly during Q3, contributing more than $3.2 billion of the total, customers were down; it reported a net customer loss in pay TV of 13,000, compared with a net gain of around 116,000 in the same quarter last year.

Those just shy of 11 million pay TV customers should provide Dish with a solid base on which to build its nascent mobile business. Things seemed to be moving in the right direction in recent months after years of inactivity and spectrum hoarding. Dish’s acquisition of Boost Mobile in July last year proved the main catalyst, followed by a couple of smaller acquisitions, and a series of deals that will underpin its 5G rollout, including its new network partnership with AT&T and a handful of OpenRAN and cloud contracts.

But the much-hyped 5G launch hasn’t happened. Plans to launch in Las Vegas in the quarter just gone were quietly pushed back, with the telco committing to beta trials there before looking at a commercial launch next year.

In the meantime, it is losing customers. Retail wireless net subscribers decreased by around 121,000 in the third quarter, Dish said, compared with a net decrease of 212,000 in the year-ago quarter, leaving it with a retail mobile base of 8.77 million customers. It picked up 9 million via the Boost Mobile acquisition less than 18 months ago and in the interim added a few hundred thousand via the purchases of Republic Wireless and Ting Mobile, hence it’s current figure doesn’t look particularly healthy. Oh, and mobile revenue dropped by more than 8% to $1.2 billion in Q3.

5G will likely change all that, giving Dish a more premium customer segment string to its bow. But it will need to get on with it. Its Q3 report repeats its assertion that 5G network build capex will come in at around $10 billion, as well as carrying a warning that the project includes commitments to long-term operational expenses that could go up.

This industry is much more complicated than ‘bums on seats,’ but Dish is going to need some to make a success of its mobile foray.

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