When Dish Network announced last week it had successfully tested fixed-wireless broadband in rural Virginia, it showed what the company could do with Clearwire’s spectrum. The service delivered 20-50 Mbps downlink rates to houses in rural areas using nTelos’ 2.5 GHz spectrum, the same frequency range as Clearwire’s spectrum licenses. 

David Zufall, Dish’s vice president of wireless networks, sees the unique potential for Dish to offer a combined television and broadband service for underserved customers.

Zufall noted that from an end-user perspective, it’s very similar to other broadband services except that it’s coming via a wireless network and not cable, copper or fiber. He pointed out that Dish hits 10,000 rooftops every day and that the same workforce can mount the fixed wireless device on the roof, configure, install, and run the cable into the house.

But deploying a terrestrial network on 2.5 GHz in rural areas requires more base stations than most carriers want to finance. It’s a concern with the propagation characteristics with 2.5 GHz and it’s one that Zufall said can be circumvented through Dish’s service.

“The key is that we’re going on to the roof,” Zufall said. “By putting this device on the roof, we’re above the clutter, we’re much higher off the ground and we don’t have to deal with any of the building penetration issues. So we can get significantly larger cell radii than you would in a traditional deployment.”

Zufall added that weather will not have a noticeable impact on broadband service.

But he admitted that Dish’s plans did not include deploying a mobile network on 2.5 GHz in rural areas and that the company’s mobile plans for that spectrum largely entail offering increased capacity in urban locations.

Zufall said Dish has yet to announce plans to expand the fixed-wireless broadband trial but that the company is hoping to take it to additional locations. Zufall was enthusiastic about an advantage this service has over traditional wireline service in its ability to be deployed quickly and easily in rural markets.

“With fixed wireless, you can look at where you believe the target customers are, plan the site deployment accordingly and then services are available at all those customer locations right away,” Zufall said.

With the promise of fiber and its 1 Gbps rates, it’s fair to wonder about the future of fixed-wireless. To that, Zufall explained that with all of the spectrum available at 2.5 GHz, coupled with the fact that much of it goes underutilized in rural areas, he sees Dish continuing to offer very competitive service.

Citing Dish’s installation team as a driving component of the service, Zufall added that it’s unclear if other operators have the workforce or have the motivation to spend the time and energy for this type of installation.

The successful tests of this service could prove pivotal in Dish’s quest to acquire Clearwire. Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen has stated, “The Clearwire spectrum portfolio has always been a key component to implementing our wireless plans of delivering a superior product and service offering to customers.”

With this broadband service plan in place for rural customers, Dish has a chance to make good use of that spectrum.