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Dish does $5 billion network deal with AT&T

Dish has inked a mobile network services deal with AT&T that is worth in excess of US$5 billion over the next decade.

Mary Lennighan

July 20, 2021

3 Min Read
Dish does $5 billion network deal with AT&T

Dish has inked a mobile network services deal with AT&T that is worth in excess of US$5 billion over the next decade.

It’s essentially an MVNO and national roaming agreement. Under the terms of the deal Dish’s various mobile brands will use AT&T’s network, while its yet-to-be-launched 5G service will roam on AT&T’s infrastructure in areas where it does not yet have coverage of its own.

AT&T replaces T-Mobile US as Dish’s wholesale network partner, a move that is perhaps not surprising given the recent public animosity between the pair. Dish lashed out at T-Mobile earlier this year over its decision to close down its CDMA network – prematurely, in Dish’s opinion – at the start of 2022. Amongst other things, Dish accused T-Mobile of anti-competitive behaviour and described it as having become “an entrenched incumbent,” rather than sticking with its previous challenger – or uncarrier, as it prefers – modus operandi. Given T-Mobile’s own positioning, that’s akin to making jokes about its mother, but that’s all water under the bridge now.

Dish is ditching T-Mobile, presumably at no small financial loss to the network operator, in favour of one of its arch-rivals.

“Teaming with AT&T on this long-term partnership will allow us to better compete in the retail wireless market and quickly respond to changes in our customers’ evolving connectivity needs as we build our own first-of-its kind 5G network,” said John Swieringa, Dish COO and Group President of Retail Wireless.

“The agreement provides enhanced coverage and service for our Boost, Ting and Republic customers, giving them access to the best connectivity on the market today via voice, messaging, data and nationwide roaming on AT&T’s vast network, as well as Dish’s 5G network,” he added.

Dish is due to launch its cloud native, Open RAN-based 5G network in Las Vegas later this year. It is working hard to build out its own cell sites and has large swathes of spectrum to help it on its way, much of which it has held on to for quite some time. But 5G rollout in a country the size of the US is no quick task, and as such, Dish will need a decent roaming deal to give it the coverage customers will expect.

AT&T recently revealed that its 5G service using sub-6 GHz and millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum is available to 250 million people, while it is aiming to extend 5G over C-band 200 million by the end of 2023.

As it stands, Dish’s mobile business centres on the Boost Mobile operation it acquired from a merging T-Mobile and Sprint last year. Boost Mobile customers make up the majority of Dish’s 9 million strong customer base, with small numbers coming from Ting Mobile and Republic Wireless, both acquired since Boost.

Dish’s use of AT&T’s network to serve those customers – and the many more it hopes to sign up over the coming years – is governed by a non-exclusive, 10-year Network Services Agreement (NSA) brokered by the pair, which states that AT&T will provide mobile wireless voice, data and messaging services in all parts of its geographic coverage area. In addition to setting out various T&Cs, the agreement, which Dish shared via an SEC filing, locks Dish in to paying AT&T “at least $5 billion” over its duration.

“Teaming with Dish on this agreement is not only a testament to the strength of our network, but it further validates the investments we’ve made in our fibre and wireless infrastructure,” said Thaddeus Arroyo, CEO, AT&T Consumer.

He did not add that the deal brings in a welcome revenue stream for AT&T, but then he probably didn’t need to. The scope of the NSA is doubtless different to the various MVNO agreements Dish had in place with T-Mobile, but its still something of a kick in the uncarriers to the legacy network provider.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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