Dish touts its future 5G network as the 'Netflix' to Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile's 'Blockbuster'

Dish touts its future 5G network as the 'Netflix' to Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile's 'Blockbuster'
After T-Mobile and Sprint finally joined forces (officially) on April 1, concluding their nearly two-year-old merger efforts that were required to jump through all kinds of regulatory and legal hoops, the US wireless industry is gearing up for a major status quo change.

Instead of four big carriers, consumers will need to choose from a list of three names when looking to activate a new phone or port in an existing number soon. At first glance, it might seem like market competition is being reduced as a direct result of the creation of a "New T-Mobile" behemoth, which could prove detrimental to consumer choice and ultimately cause cellular plan rates to go up.

But at least for the time being, that's certainly not what's happening, as Verizon and AT&T are under increasing pressure from Magenta to both improve their networks and lower prices. And then there's Dish, which played a pivotal role in sealing the deal between T-Mobile and Sprint by promising to take the latter's place as the fourth-largest wireless carrier nationwide. To do that, the Colorado-based TV provider has to close its own Boost Mobile acquisition and essentially build a new 5G network from scratch.

Money is not a problem... for now

Even though Dish's Q1 2020 financial report could have definitely looked better (to say the least), as both overall profit and video subscriber figures took a somewhat predictable coronavirus-related beating, company chairman and co-founder Charlie Ergen claims the "funding part" of the 5G buildout equation is not keeping anyone "up at night at this point."

While top Dish executives expect 5G-related expenses of around $10 billion and analyst estimates go far beyond that number, Ergen is taking a baby steps approach, highlighting that the company can figure out the math as it goes, making slow and gradual investments in network rollouts and expansions. For starters, there's $1 billion of equity Dish can rely on, as well as a relatively steady stream of cash coming from the pay-TV division and a shrinking debt load that proves the company is in a pretty good place financially speaking.

Still, there's been a lot of talk about the need for a deep-pocketed partner in the long run, and although the identity of the prospective associate (or associates) remains under wraps, Ergen continues to tout "a lot of third-party interest." 

With or without someone like Amazon or Google financially supporting its ambitious plans, Dish is confident its network will be better, "less expensive, less expensive to operate and more flexible" than what "wireless incumbents" currently have going on.

Boost transaction will be completed soon, followed by 5G trial service launch

Before wowing the world with its "Netflix"-style broadband network taking on the "Blockbuster" club composed of Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, Dish needs to close its $1.4 billion acquisition of Boost, the Sprint-owned MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) that will continue to operate on T-Mo's airwaves.

The deal is expected to be sealed as early as June 1 and no later than July 1, potentially allowing Dish to enjoy "owner's economics a year from now." In theory, Dish would be left with almost $1 billion in hand for other wireless expenses this year after the Boost Mobile transaction is completed, but the company only expects to use a fraction of that money due to the coronavirus pandemic

Still, that should be enough for a 5G network "core" and "trial service" to launch sometime by the end of 2020 in one unnamed US market. It remains to be seen how quickly can Dish expand said service after that, as the company needs to provide a 5G signal covering no less than 70 percent of the country by 2023 or pay the US Treasury significant penalties. That's in theory, of course, because the terms of last year's DOJ deal never considered the economic repercussions of the current national and global health crisis.

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