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Dish Better Positioned Than Competitors on Network of the Future: Ergen

Dish Network is better positioned than its competitors, with the most advanced wireless network available, Chairman Charlie Ergen said during a call with investors Monday as the company reported Q1 earnings. Ergen also said he's disappointed the FCC didn’t reallocate the lower 12 GHz band for 5G (see 23042700774). Dish reported customer losses across most of its businesses, finishing the quarter with 7.91 million wireless subscribers, a net loss of 81,000 in the quarter, with churn of 4.57%. The company lost 343,000 in the year-ago quarter.

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I’ve traveled the world,” Ergen said. “There is not another network as advanced as ours and it’s up and operating in 50 markets today, and working,” he said. Dish has an open radio access network that’s cloud based, with voice over new radio technology, he said.

We have some advantages in the architecture,” Ergen said. AI needs data to work, he said: “The most data rich place is a wireless network and if you want to access data you’d better be in the cloud and you’d better have a very sophisticated network that works more like an IT network.” The killer app ultimately will be AI “and all that goes with it,” he said.

Dish has an IT network that “kind of operates as a telco -- our competition is a telco that has to start operating like an IT network,” Ergen said. Making that change is tough and will take other carriers 10 years, he said: “We’re already there.”

Other members of the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition see the proposed 12 GHz item as progress (see 2305020032), but Ergen said he's disappointed though not surprised. An order declines to allocate the band for 5G, but an NPRM seeks comment on fixed wireless, unlicensed and other use of the spectrum. The FCC “did a thorough job,” but the order was a win for SpaceX, which opposed use of the band for 5G, Ergen said: “SpaceX is doing a good job out there, so all I can do is congratulate them. We believe our studies were valid, but we didn’t win on them.”

Ergen declined to say whether Dish will exercise an option it got as part of a complicated arrangement on T-Mobile’s buy of Sprint to acquire the company’s 800 MHz spectrum. “We believe it’s spectrum that we need to compete, and it’s valuable spectrum,” he said. The company would owe T-Mobile $72 million if it doesn’t exercise the option, Ergen said. T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said last week the company hadn’t heard anything on the licenses (see 2304280049).

Ergen said he’s surprised the FCC hasn't teed up an item on higher-power use of citizens broadband radio service spectrum. “It’s imperative that we take a look at that, get all the facts,” he said.

Dish is building out its 600 MHz licenses, starting construction on 16,000 sites by the end of the quarter, said Dave Mayo, executive vice president-network development. “Those sites will have to be fully fibered and powered, and we’re well on our way to achieving that,” he said.

Dish reported $3.96 billion revenue for the quarter, compared to $4.33 billion a year ago. Net income attributable to the network was $223 million for Q1, compared to $433 million a year earlier. Dish finished the quarter with 9.198 million pay TV subscribers, down 552,000 from the end of last year and down more than 1 million from a year ago. That includes 7.1 million Dish TV subscribers and 2.1 million Sling TV subscribers.

Dish has largely completed the investigation of a data breach that’s the subject of a lawsuit (docket 1:23-cv-00734) in the U.S. District Court for Colorado in Denver (see 2303240002), CEO Erik Carlson said on the call. The breach temporarily affected the company’s ability to serve Boost Mobile and satellite TV customers.

Customer databases weren’t accessed in the incident, though employee information was, Carlson said. “We’ve taken steps to protect the affected records and personal information,” he said. The extracted data has been deleted, he said, noting Dish has no indication the data was misused. “Data security is extremely important to us,” he said. The company incurred about $30 million in costs as a result, he said.

Dish, meanwhile, filed at the FCC last week seeking to block or modify T-Mobile's $3.5 billion buy of 600 MHz spectrum from Columbia Capital. “Despite its clear success, T-Mobile is again asking the FCC to permit an acquisition of additional valuable airwaves,” said a filing in the FCC’s universal licensing system: “The Commission should draw a line here if it is to encourage robust competition in the wireless market.” T-Mobile didn’t comment Monday.