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Samsung bags a tasty Dish Open RAN deal

Dish is definitely, definitely, probably about to launch its 5G network in the US, and this week it revealed Samsung will supply some of the kit it needs.

The multi-year, cross-country agreement will see the Korean electronics giant supply its Open RAN-compliant virtualised RAN (vRAN) software. It will also provide radio units including massive MIMO radios. Samsung’s vRAN solutions work on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers, making it a good a fit for Dish’s cloud-native network.

“Samsung’s 5G solutions will play an integral role in our network expansion, giving us the flexibility to deploy our cloud-native network with software-based solutions that support advanced services and operational scalability,” said John Swieringa, president and chief operating officer of Dish Wireless, in a statement on Tuesday.

Swieringa was promoted in January from EVP and president of Dish’s wireless business to COO. As well as something new to put on his business card, the new job title also gave him the somewhat onerous responsibility for the deployment and management of Dish’s long-awaited 5G network.

Its commercial launch has been pushed back numerous times, and as it stands the network is currently only available to select friends and family in Las Vegas. Under the terms of its 5G licence, Dish is obliged to cover 20 percent of the population by this June, rising to 70 percent by next June. The pressure is well and truly on then, but if recent comments by Dish CEO Erik Carlson are to be believed, Swieringa has pulled it out the bag. During February’s results call, his boss said Dish has “25 major metro markets” ready to go live before the deadline, more than enough to reach that 20 percent threshold.

Samsung will doubtless play an important role as Dish ramps up its rollout. In addition to network equipment and software, Samsung  will also supply 5G devices to Dish. The operator is already using the Samsung Galaxy S22 to test its network, and plans to keep using Samsung devices as reference platforms during deployment.

“We look forward to working with Samsung, whose industry leadership in vRAN and O-RAN innovation will help to support our vision of delivering open, interoperable cloud-based 5G services to consumers and enterprises across the US,” Swieringa said.

This week’s deal represents another feather in the cap for Samsung’s networks division, which is pursuing an ambitious goal of challenging the likes of Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia in the 5G market. It appears to be going well so far. In September 2020 it turned heads when it won a $6.6 billion deal to supply equipment to Verizon. Samsung has also won fans – perhaps most notably Vodafone – with its Open RAN and cloud-based networking portfolio. According to Reuters, this week’s deal with Dish is worth more than a billion dollars.

“Samsung is excited to join this 5G journey with Dish, a pioneer in bringing new experiences to households and businesses around the country, leveraging openness and virtualisation that sit at the heart of network evolution,” said Mark Louison, EVP and head of the networks business at Samsung America.

As journeys go, this has been a long one for Dish. Even before the 2019 acquisition of MVNO Boost Mobile that paved the way for its entry into 5G, Dish had spent around a decade steadily building up its spectrum holdings. Year after year, Dish’s co-founder, former CEO, and ex-professional poker player Charlie Ergen would be quizzed about his company’s plans for wireless, and more or less every time he would tease a few minor details without revealing any hidden aces. It became a regular routine, so much so that Dish entering the mobile market became something of a running joke among industry watchers. With that in mind, and with the June deadline looming large, it’s laughable that Dish has left it this late.

 

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