Dish gets FCC approval to build next-generation LTE network

Dish Network has gotten approval from the Federal Communications Commission to build a cellular network on spectrum previously allocated to satellite services. Dish has said it plans to build an LTE-Advanced network, which would be much faster than today’s LTE service, but the targeted rollout date isn’t until 2016.

Reporting on yesterday’s FCC approval, the Wall Street Journal noted that Dish “could have built a mobile network without the FCC rule changes. But those handsets would have to include a satellite chip, making them more expensive.” Yesterday’s vote lets Dish use its airwaves for a terrestrial-only cellular network.

If Dish doesn’t build its own network, it could sell the spectrum or partner with a wireless provider like Sprint Nextel, Reuters reported. Recent rumors suggest Dish is talking with Google about a wireless partnership as well. Dish said yesterday that it “will consider its strategic options.” However it plays out, it would take a while: in May, Dish made a filing with the FCC that pegged 2016 as the likely rollout date.

“To enter the market as a new and vibrant competitor in a field of powerful incumbents, DISH must focus on the future of cellular technology—LTE-Advanced. Developing and implementing a new LTE-Advanced network in the S-Band will take time,” the company said. “Based on an ambitious build out schedule and barring unforeseen circumstances, DISH believes it can deploy its network to 60 million POPs [points of presence, or potential users] within four years. A three-year interim milestone is unrealistic for a new mobile broadband service provider and a new band, especially one that lacks a global ecosystem for LTE-Advanced equipment.”

The FCC approval requires Dish to build out 70 percent of the cellular network within six years, the Journal said. Dish has 40MHz of spectrum from 2000-2020 MHz and 2180-2200 MHz. The FCC is requiring Dish to sacrifice some of its spectrum to assuage interference concerns raised by Sprint. On the plus side, Dish won’t run into the same GPS interference problems that destroyed LightSquared’s attempt to build a 4G network.

The FCC yesterday also announced plans for a spectrum auction in the H Block for next year.