Dish's Hyped 5G Network (And 'Fix' For T-Mobile/Sprint Merger) Is Looking Rather Skimpy
from the good-luck-with-that dept
Two years ago the Trump DOJ and FCC rubber stamped the Sprint T-Mobile merger without heeding experts warnings that the merger would likely erode competition, raise rates, and kill jobs. Then, working closely with T-Mobile and Dish, the FCC and DOJ unveiled what they claimed was a “fix” for the problematic nature of the deal: they’d try to cobble together a fourth major replacement wireless carrier in Dish Network.
As we noted a few times the proposal was never likely to succeed. One, because Dish had no track record in this space outside of a parade of empty promises. Two, because the remaining three providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile) want less price competition and would be incentivized at every step to ensure it fails. Three, because the government would likely dole out more than wrist slaps should Dish miss major build out milestones.
So far, things are going just about as well as you’d expect. T-Mobile has already laid off 5,000 employees, and the plan has been mired with endless squabbling between T-Mobile and Dish. And both the beta and commercial launch of Dish’s 5G network, first in Las Vegas, keeps being delayed. There is technically a network operating in Las Vegas, but most folks in wireless continue to eye the company’s plans with justified skepticism. Early analysis of the network that does exist isn’t what you’d call bubbly, as both speeds and coverage are sorely lacking after repeated delays:
“They have some work to do to catch up,” summed Emil Olbrich, VP of networks with Signals Research Group (SRG), in comments to Light Reading. He said Dish’s 5G network in Vegas isn’t as good as T-Mobile’s 5G network in the city, but he said it’s still early days for Dish and the company likely will improve its offering…the firm’s initial findings indicate Dish likely isn’t providing the blazing-fast speeds that other 5G providers are.
“They’re going to have some issues,” Olbrich said of Dish’s efforts to refine its network in Vegas.”
Here’s the problem: to meaningfully build a nationwide 5G network that people actually like and use, Dish is going to need a massive trove of cash and to compete on price. But the company continues to bleed the customers it does have — traditional satellite TV customers — at an alarming rate. Here’s the other problem: motivating T-Mobile to actually meet set FCC benchmarks (its network has to cover at least 70% of the U.S. population with 5G by 2023) requires regulators willing to impose major penalties and stand up to large telecoms, and the U.S. simply… doesn’t have that (regardless of the political party in power).
The Trump folks who pitched this deal knew that. I’m fairly convinced this has always been a performance to justify approval, with the crafters knowing the end result will be a Dish face plant and reduced competition (and fatter revenues) in the wireless space. I also tend to think Dish is inevitably doomed, and this could just be an elaborate exit package for CEO Charlie Ergen, who could eventually sell off the company’s massive spectrum holdings and existing build for tens of billions of dollars, throw a few nickels at any regulatory and legal penalties that result, and still ride off into the sunset with a fat stack of cash.