November 21, 2012 10:52 pm

Dish wins spectrum approval

Dish Network, the US satellite TV operator, has moved an important step closer to winning regulatory approval for its plan to use spare wireless spectrum to launch mobile broadband services.

However, the plan is only likely to be approved with restrictions that Dish claims could hinder its plans to spend billions of dollars building a new nationwide telecoms network based on LTE technology.

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Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has circulated proposals to his fellow commissioners that would allow Dish to use its “AWS-4” satellite spectrum for broad terrestrial purposes, but with certain power emission limits to protect the adjacent “H” block of spectrum that the FCC plans to auction next year.

“Chairman Genachowski shared proposals with his colleagues that will unleash up to 50MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband, including LTE,” said an FCC spokesman.

The proposal is likely to be voted on by the commissioners before the end of the year, clearing the way for Dish to launch LTE services in direct competition with rivals including the four largest US mobile operators: Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA.

“If approved, these actions will promote competition, investment and innovation, and advance commission efforts to unleash spectrum for mobile broadband to help meet skyrocketing consumer demand, while unlocking billions of dollars of value to the public,” the FCC said.

“We believe the (FCC chairman’s) proposal is in line with our expectations, and we continue to believe it would give Dish a strategic victory – opening the door to entering mobile broadband or at least monetising increased spectrum value – but a tactical defeat versus Sprint, which wants to win the H block at auction and use it for high-power wireless service,” said Christopher King of Stifel Nicolaus Telecom Equity Research.

Dish has lobbied hard for its proposals, but in response to the FCC chairman’s move cautioned that the restrictions over the transmission power could jeopardise its plans. “While the FCC would grant full terrestrial rights, its proposal to lower our power and emissions levels could cripple our ability to enter the business,” the company said.

In proposing the power restrictions, the FCC chairman is clearly eager to avoid a rerun of the controversy over similar proposals tabled by LightSquared, the wireless broadband start-up backed by Philip Falcone. LightSquared was forced to abandon its plans to launch a nationwide LTE network because of concerns over possible interference with navigation and other equipment

Dish has made little secret of its ambitions to enter the US mobile telecommunications market, despite fierce competition. Last week, MetroPCS, the pre-paid mobile market leader, which is being acquired by Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile USA unit, revealed in a regulatory filing that it had earlier held talks with a number of potential bidders including Dish.

Separately, the FCC announced on Wednesday that it would hold hearings over the next few months to consider measures that could help avoid the loss of telecommunications services during and after disasters such as the recent superstorm Sandy.

In the immediate wake of Sandy, mobile network operators reported that up to 25 per cent of the cell towers in the hardest hit part of America’s East coast were knocked out of service, mostly when they lost power.

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