Charlie Ergen, CEO of US satellite TV provider Dish Network, laid out a two part strategy for his company’s push into the wireless space that will see it first tackle an Internet of Things deployment before moving on to 5G down the line.

Ergen and Dish EVP Tom Cullen said during the company’s Q3 earnings call the first phase of Dish’s wireless network approach will be the construction of a low power narrowband (NB-IoT) network. This, they said, will not only help Dish meet a 2020 spectrum buildout requirement set by the Federal Communications Commission, but also present partnership opportunities with mobile operators who are themselves pushing toward NB-IoT deployments (for example T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon).

As Cullen pointed out on the call: “You’ve probably seen a number of the global operators announcing deployments already with new consumer products just in the last couple weeks. So there’s an opportunity there for us to cooperate with some of those carriers. And we’ve had those discussions as they start satisfying the needs of multi-national deployments.”

Cullen declined to share what spectrum configuration Dish will use to deploy NB-IoT, but said “it will be consistent and compliant with 3GPP”.

The NB-IoT effort will serve as a “testbed” for a Phase 2 deployment that will follow in the years beyond 2020 once Dish’s newly won 600MHz spectrum is cleared and 5G specifications are set, Cullen indicated.

Making progress
Based on Cullen and Ergen’s comments, Phase 1 is already well underway with Dish expanding its wireless team, finalising contracts with radio access equipment vendors, and negotiating with chipset and module vendors. Due to the “unique spectrum configuration” needed to meet FCC licence requirements for its AWS-4 and 700MHz airwaves, Dish has paid development fees to the aforementioned vendors and expects to have radios ready later in 2018. Initial deployments will begin shortly thereafter, Cullen said.

Cullen noted Dish has also started conversations with a “wide range” of tower owners. The company hopes to have some agreements in place early next year.