Dish makes good on 5G coverage commitment

5G technology and computer network with internet of thing icon over Top view of Chicago Cityscape

Dish Wireless has extended its 5G network to over 70% of the US population, satisfying the coverage requirements of its spectrum licences.

But while the telco is talking up its breadth of coverage and the advanced technology its infrastructure is built upon, it still has very little to say about customers actually using the network. Clearly that user base hasn’t gone up much in the past few weeks.

As of 14 June, Dish’s 5G broadband network reaches over 70% of the population or more than 240 million people, the telco announced on Thursday. It added that it has satisfied all other FCC requirements, including launching more than 15,000 base stations.

That coverage figure was a key commitment required by the regulator and one that Dish has been repeatedly questioned about in recent months. At its first quarter results announcement in May, company executives took great pains to note that the 5G rollout was on track and would meet licence requirements.

At the time Dave Mayo, EVP of network development at Dish, noted that as of the end of Q1 the company has started construction of around 18,000 base stations, but would need approximately 16,000 to meet FCC targets. It seems like it required slightly fewer, but we’re in the same ballpark.

“Our teams have worked tirelessly for years, and this achievement is a testament to their dedication and commitment as we grow the world’s first and only 5G cloud-native Open RAN network,” said Mayo, in a comment on Thursday’s announcement. “We appreciate the continued support and efforts of our partners as Dish continues to lead the industry in Open RAN deployment.”

Dish is certainly ahead in the Open RAN stakes in its home market, but its competitors have significantly longer-established wireless businesses and customer bases that are proving difficult to challenge.

Dish made no comment on actual customer numbers. The customer base it acquired to help set itself up as the country’s fourth MNO three years ago – mainly via the purchase of Boost Mobile from Sprint as part of the T-Mobile US merger – is still falling; in Q1 Dish lost 81,000 mobile customers, leaving it with 7.91 million. And those customers are for the most part still using AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks, as per MVNO deals, rather than Dish’s own infrastructure. The lack of compatible handsets has had an impact, but the telco aims to add more devices later this year, including the iPhone.

“We have made significant progress on our network buildout, and can now focus on monetizing the network through retail and enterprise growth,” said said John Swieringa, president and chief operating officer, Dish Wireless.

Doubtless Swieringa is talking about growing the business in the consumer market. But there is also another retail angle to consider: that of distribution. There were reports last month of Dish being in talks with Amazon to sell new phone plans through the online retailer. There has been no announcement as yet, but such a move would certainly give Dish a leg-up in getting its phones – as they become available – into customers’ hands.

“With more markets across the country offering the Dish 5G network for voice, text and data services, our business can start realizing the benefits of owner economics,” Swieringa said.

And that’s ultimately what this latest rollout milestone is really all about for Dish.


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