Dish unlikely to be swamped with new 5G customers

Dish Network says its 5G service now covers more than a fifth of the US population, but with a limited range of devices on offer, it’s unlikely to sign up new customers at first.

The US’s fourth mobile network operator, as Dish becomes with the inauguration of its own infrastructure, has been keeping the market waiting for its 5G service for some time. It’s getting on for two years since it acquired Boost Mobile as part of the T-Mobile US/Sprint tie up, and the firm has been sitting on a spectrum pile for a lot longer than that.

More recently it repeatedly promised an imminent 5G launch, codenamed Project Genesis, that kept failing to materialise…until May, when its network finally went live in Las Vegas. But even then, there were question marks over its ability to meet FCC-imposed rollout targets, the first of which was 20% population coverage by 14 June.

In its announcement on Wednesday, the day after that deadline, Dish said its network had exceeded that figure, although it added that it has another month in which to file its first buildout progress report with the regulator.

But while the network might well be accessible to tens of millions of people – Dish says it covers 120 cities, presumably parts thereof, and it also has roaming deals in place – we shouldn’t expect them all to come running to sign up.

The operator is making much of its relatively low-priced unlimited voice and data plan, which comes in at $30 per month, and its data-only plan for hotspot customers that costs $20. But customers don’t have much in the way of devices to choose from. Just two, in fact.

Customers outside Las Vegas will need the Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone. The telco launched with the Motorola Edge+ in Sin City last month and that phone is still available there, with Dish pledging to expand sales further afield in the coming months. It has also promised to bring more compatible devices on board later this year. Data-only customers will need the NetGear 5G hotspot, incidentally.

All of which means the long-awaited 5G launch falls a little flatter than we perhaps would have liked.

Nonetheless, it’s worth remembering that Dish is doing something different here. It is rolling out a cloud native Open RAN infrastructure alongside a raft of partners, some of which are newcomers to the mobile network space.

“This milestone was achieved through the collaboration, ingenuity and hard work of the DISH team and our numerous partners, including AWS, Cisco, CommScope, Dell, Fujitsu, Intel, JMA, Mavenir, Nokia, Oracle, Palo Alto, Qualcomm, Samsung and VMware,” said Dave Mayo, executive vice president of network development at Dish Wireless. “We’re the only major network in the world built primarily with American vendors,” he added. We’ll just gloss over the few distinctly non-American big names in that list…

As Dell, one of those vendor partners, points out, while bigging up its own part in proceedings, of course, that the cloud network will scale quickly. “The launch of Dish’s 5G service in additional markets will spur connectivity and innovation for businesses and communities while advancing the US open telecom ecosystem,” added Dennis Hoffman, senior vice president and general manager, Dell Technologies Telecom Systems Business, in a statement.

So while Dish might not take the 5G market by storm immediately after launch, it is laying the groundwork to become a credible competitor later on.


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