DISH Network is Positioning to Add an 'S'

By Peter Bernstein June 13, 2013

Satellite entertainment service delivery company DISH Network CEO Charlie Ergen got to be a billionaire by being a risk taker. At the moment, all eyes are focused on his jousting with another billionaire risk taker, SoftBank head Masayoshi Son, as they duel for control of near-bankrupt Clearwire, which is an integral piece of SoftBank’s attempt to acquire Sprint.

All of this is complicated. It is also not dull. For those keeping score at home here is where we stand:

  • On June 12, Clearwire’s board reversed course and endorsed DISH’s $4.40-a-share bid as being superior to an offer by its majority owner Sprint. 
  • A few days ago, SoftBank got the green light on its $21.6 billion takeover offer of Sprint even though a competing offer from DISH was considered superior.
  • SoftBank wants access to the Clearwire assets now controlled by 50 percent owner Sprint because of the valuable 4G wireless spectrum the troubled Clearwire possesses, but if DISH gets control of Clearwire it could force the SoftBank takeover of Sprint into turmoil.
  • Sprint meanwhile has to consider what to do about its own bid for Clearwire since the Clearwire board has recommended that shareholders vote it down on June 24 at the same time DISH extended its offer for the company until July 2.

The machinations have caused SoftBank’s stock to drop for the moment, and led to wild speculation about the future of Clearwire which could be owned by Sprint and ultimately SoftBank, by DISH, go bankrupt and be broken up, or part of some as yet unforeseen further intrigue that includes possible litigation over various parties’ corporate governance rights.  

As noted, it is complicated and has been great theater for industry observers as well as the financial community. 

However, that is not the only thing DISH has been up to. Indeed, the interest in Clearwire is non-trivial as DISH clearly wants to put an “S” at the end of the word network. In this regard, don’t take your eyes off what is going on in Waynesboro, Virginia.


Source: Google Maps

Located roughly 30 miles west of Charlottesville in rural western Virginia, there is an interesting technology trial going on here that is extremely relevant to all of the other drama that might slip past your radar. 

Following a May 2013 announcement of their intent to co-develop a fixed wireless broadband service, DISH and NTELOS Holding Corp. have deployed broadband service using wireless spectrum in the 2.5 GHz range. And, here is where it gets really interesting. “Broadband service speeds at the initial test sites are ranging from 20 Mbps to more than 50 Mbps,” according to the companies.

"This trial delivers speeds several times faster to our home than the wireline service that we have been using," said Anthony Gingerich, Waynesboro resident and nTelos employee. "Streaming video is a very good experience through the fixed broadband connection and the overall Internet experience has improved for our family."

As part of the demonstration, nTelos and DISH have activated two wireless tower test sites in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Waynesboro and Afton, Va. Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent have provided equipment and assisted in the installation. Using professional installation people rather than letting people install their own CPE as has been the case with most previous fixed broadband trials, DISH deployed BandRich ruggedized outdoor routers with built-in high-gain antennas to receive the 2.5 GHz LTE signal.

Source: BrandRich

"With nearly a fifth of American households underserved by broadband, a fixed wireless solution delivering true broadband speeds will bring improved broadband options to potentially millions of consumers," said Tom Cullen, DISH executive vice president of Corporate Development. "DISH has a nationwide workforce of professional technicians that can be dispatched to install both a satellite DISH for our video service and an antenna for broadband on the same roof at the same time."

"nTelos is extremely encouraged by the level of progress we've achieved since announcing our co-development project with DISH less than three weeks ago. This has been a true team effort, bringing together the talents and expertise of various vendor partners to accelerate the completion of our LTE core and to design and install fixed broadband wireless technology within the nTelos footprint," noted James A. Hyde, CEO of NTELOS Holdings Corp. "We are excited to test this first of its kind offering, with an emphasis on further shrinking the service gap of underserved, rural communities. As we prove out the concept and refine the offering, we are confident this partnership will build value for all our stake holders."

In fact, to see more the embedded video is worth a view.

DISH and nTelos have not disclosed details on the duration of the trial service or plans for expansion beyond the test sites.

The reason to keep an eye is for the obvious ones. DISH has a nationwide installation force that can simply place the necessary LTE equipment up on the room with the TV equipment, and all of a sudden it is a triple play threat with national reach, and a likely group of welcoming mobile and other partners.

 In fact, according to a report by Bloomberg, cable companies and other pay-TV operators are supposedly offering incentives to media companies that agree to withhold their content from Web-based entertainment services such as those being pursued by Intel , Apple and others. Having another broadband path into the home would make such threats less viable whether they constitute possible anti-competitive behavior at the moment (as is alleged) or not. 

The billionaires are playing for very high stakes, indeed. 




Edited by Rich Steeves
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