SBA Communications, an independent wireless communications infrastructure owner and operator, recently signed a deal with Dish Network to help the company finish its nationwide Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) network build-out by March 2020. Dish plans to spend up to $1 billion on this venture. The announcement serves as the first time Dish Network publically named any of its partners for the build-out.
SBA Communications said it will supply a portion of the towers Dish Network will use to broadcast its NB-IoT signal. SBA chief executive officer Jeff Stoops stated during the company’s earnings conference call Dish signed leases to obtain access to numerous SBA towers. Stoops stated SBA has seen a fair amount of activity from Dish and the company expects it will be one of its more prominent customers aside from the “Big Four” wireless carriers, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.
“SBA is the first tower company to note activity from Dish,” Wells Fargo analysts wrote to investors after SBA released its earnings. “The size and impact of Dish’s network plans remain to be seen.”
Network equipment vendor Ericsson will also partner with Dish as it completes its network build-out. The vendor provided the radio network for Dish’s network earlier in 2018 and will supply radios and its “cloud core” network for this current venture.
“Dish is in the unique position of building a greenfield network, starting with NB-IoT, with a clear path to 5G,” Niklas Heuveldop, head of Ericsson’s North American business said in a statement. “We are excited that Dish has decided to partner with Ericsson to address the IoT opportunity. We believe that NB-IoT holds great potential for both consumers and businesses across the U.S.”
Ericsson and Dish confirmed their ability to validate and deploy an, “extended” range network. This will permit every NB-IoT tower to transmit a signal up to approximately 60 miles. That range is a crucial part of Dish’s strategy because the company will be able to cover large batches of area without having to compensate tower companies to install the Ericsson radios on top of their towers.
Dish’s build-out plan has not come without controversy, however. Wells Fargo analysts stated they believe Dish is doing this build-out to satisfy the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) spectrum license build-out requirements rather than provide a revenue producing service. T-Mobile made that argument to the FCC, believing Dish’s build out was an attempt to, “hoard spectrum assets.” Dish Network has disputed these claims, however and stated it’s looking at the NB-IoT build-out as the first step to higher wireless ambitions. The company’s next phase would be to a 5G network.