Dish protests AT&T’s rapid LTE build-out, affirms retail plans

Mon, 02/06/2012 - 3:02pm
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

Dish Network wants the FCC to ignore a proposal from AT&T that it be forced to construct its LTE network faster than it had originally planned.

The company has asked for a lenient build-out schedule on the LTE Advanced network it wants to deploy in satellite spectrum it recently acquired from TerreStar Networks and DBSD North America.

The FCC must grant Dish Network a waiver for an ancillary terrestrial component before it can move forward with its plan.

If Dish has its way, it will peg construction of its network to the development of equipment and devices for the newly ratified LTE-Advanced standard.

But AT&T late last month pushed the FCC to make Dish Network's build-out deadline "comparable to those imposed on LightSquared," which required the company to cover 100 million people by the end of this year.

The operator is rumored to be interested in buying Dish's satellite spectrum in the wake of its failed takeover attempt of T-Mobile USA, which cost it $4 billion in breakup fees and left it on the hunt for new airwaves.

Now Dish is saying that AT&T's proposal would set it up for failure.

"A new, next-generation LTE Advanced retail network simply cannot be viably built in the S-band at the pace AT&T suggests," Dish Network general counsel Jeffery Blum told the FCC in a letter posted to the agency's website on Friday.

Calling AT&T's build-out conditions "unrealistic," Blum said Dish needed time for LTE Advanced equipment to be available for its S-band spectrum, pegging the technology's maturity some time in 2015. He also said it was infeasible for Dish to deploy an earlier version of LTE and then upgrade to the new standard.

Blum also affirmed that Dish plans to use its planned LTE network for retail service, instead of pursuing the wholesale model adopted by LightSquared.

Putting a new retail service together is more complicated than just offering a wholesale service to other providers, since it will require Dish to lease towers, develop devices, expand its brand identity and retail presence, and upgrade its customer support and billing systems, Blum said.

"Ultimately, the retailer/wholesaler distinction further supports a different build-out approach for Dish than previously developed for LightSquared," Blum said.

Blum also argued that Dish needed extra time because LightSquared was using a spectrum hosting deal with Sprint to accelerate its network build.

The only way LightSquared could possibly meet its deadline was by piggybacking on an incumbent's network, Blum said. Imposing similar conditions on Dish "would drive any new provider toward such a network sharing approach."

Dish is still negotiating a waiver with the FCC, which is under pressure to follow through on its pledge to expand broadband access. BTIG Research analyst Walter Piecyk says the ongoing controversy over LightSquared and criticism of the agency's handling of spectrum auctions could give Dish additional leverage.


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