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Spectrum will be among many interesting topics on Dish’s Q123 earnings

The wireless industry is curious to tune into Dish Networks’ first quarter earnings call next Monday for an update on several things. The top question will likely relate to the ransomware attack on the company, which occurred on the same day as Dish’s last earnings call in February. All eyes (and ears) will be alert for the impact that the attack had on Dish’s subscriber numbers, both for its satellite TV service, as well as its Boost prepaid wireless service.

And of course, analysts will ask about the company’s 5G buildout. Dish Wireless is hurrying to meet another deadline. It’s supposed to cover 70% of the U.S. population with its greenfield 5G network by mid-June.

S&P Global has a negative outlook on the company over concerns of cash-flow uncertainty. “Dish has limited financial flexibility to pull back on investments in the current macroeconomic environment given rapidly approaching wireless network buildout requirements,” wrote S&P Global. “Therefore, the company will need to raise a substantial amount of capital in the coming years to fund capital spending, wireless startup costs, and debt maturities.”

Dish usually goes straight to questions in its earnings calls, which will be especially helpful this time, because there are so many questions.

Some of those questions will probably relate to Dish’s spectrum.

800 MHz spectrum

Under the terms of the Department of Justice's Consent Decree that allowed T-Mobile to buy Sprint, Dish has the right to purchase 13.5 MHz of 800 MHz spectrum from T-Mobile for $3.59 billion. The option originally expired on July 1, but Dish has requested a 60-day extension. The timing isn’t great for Dish because the company has a lot of capital needs at the moment.

If Dish does not exercise the option to purchase, it will instead have to pay T-Mobile $72 million. Then T-Mobile can either apply for a waiver to keep the spectrum, or the FCC might want to auction it.

New Street Research policy analyst Blair Levin noted that Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen has previously said the spectrum is important, and the Dish Wireless network has been built to incorporate the 800 MHz band spectrum.

It will be interesting what Ergen says, if anything, about the 800 MHz spectrum next Monday.

12 GHz

Dish has been fighting with SpaceX’s Starlink over the 12 GHz spectrum for a number of years.

Dish uses the 12 GHz band for its direct broadcast satellite (DBS) business. But it would also like the band opened up for two-way terrestrial use so that it can use the spectrum for its new 5G wireless network and also potentially for fixed wireless access (FWA).

Meanwhile, Starlink has been lobbying for exclusive access to the spectrum for its FWA.

At its upcoming May meeting, the FCC will vote on items that affect both the lower and upper 12 GHz band.

Levin notes that in the lower 12 GHz, the FCC’s proposal to not enable mobile usage would be a win for Starlink and a loss for Dish. However, it would potentially open the lower band for FWA, which would be a win for Dish.

“As to the upper band, the order sets the stage for repurposing the band for mobile broadband or other expanded use and moving or otherwise accommodating the current users,” wrote Levin.

Whether the topic of 12 GHz will come up on next Monday’s earnings call is yet to be seen.

600 MHz

When Covid hit in the spring of 2020, Dish loaned, and then later leased, some of its 600 MHz licenses to T-Mobile to help the Un-carrier with coverage as Americans started working from home.

There was some confusion this week when Dish notified the FCC that it was canceling some 600 MHz licenses.

It turned out that Dish had made a clerical error. Instead of canceling the leases with T-Mobile, it accidentally clicked a button to cancel the licenses.

All’s well that ends well. “Canceling the lease to T-Mobile means that Dish intends to light up the spectrum in the relevant market,” wrote New Street Research today. “If anything, it is a positive signal that Dish is on track with the network deployment.”

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