Dish Network finally has a green light to offer 4G, so when do we get our satellite phones?

dish network surprise

Dish Network has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and it ironically has nothing to do with its television service. While the company continues to straddle along with its 14 million satellite television subscribers, the company has made some interesting, though a tad odd, shifts in the market, ranging from acquisitions of bankrupt brands to pushing out satellite broadband for the world. While the acquisitions and new services are certainly an act of diversification by the satellite telecom company, the real question is just what in the world Dish has been planning with the wireless world? Is Dish trying to become a carrier? Merge its services with one, or just exit the market?

For months now, Dish has been flip flopping between a myriad of plans, floating ideas like Blockbuster Mobile stores, teaming up with Sprint or Google, and offering up its own wireless 4G by satellite. At first glance, it seems like Dish just really wants to burn that Christmas bonus in a hurry. For months now, the company has been hinting at an entry into the wireless market. Its recent offering of satellite broadband service at home and in cars only furthers the logic they want to play the game as hard as AT&T, Verizon, and other multidisciplinary telecom companies.

Back in November, word got out that Google and Dish Network were discussing plans to enter the market together as a joint wireless venture, though neither admitted any progress or acknowledged the discussion publicly. Now rumor has it that Sprint has been chatting it up with Dish, specifically in regard to Dish’s recent FCC approval for 4G usage of their satellite band. So the question is posed: Does Dish have what it takes – and what it needs – to be the first satellite wireless hybrid network?

“The parts are there” Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, told us, “but getting them to work together will be very difficult.” Enderle says the problem is that Dish can’t run a network purely on satellite cost-effectively, and that Dish Network would need to partner up with wireless heavyweights, and that’s something he doesn’t see happening. Though Google’s fiber network grows with every week, neither it or Dish have “a national wireless footprint,” and that could pose problem if Dish plans on competing with the very companies that own all the cell towers. For years, Verizon and Sprint have shared roaming service with one another. Dish would have to strike affordable roaming agreements with multiple carriers to offer up satellite service in rural areas and backing it with some 3G (or even 4G) footprint. 

The very idea of a hybrid satellite / cellular wireless service poses technological problems. It’s bad enough that satellite phones have notoriously large antennas. One can only imagine how Dish will stuff 3G, 4G LTE, and satellite service all into one device. There have yet to be Android satellite phones, and it’d be tough for Dish to sell a mainstream wireless service without a flagship smartphone that can do everything modern phone buyers expect, whether it be Android, iPhone, or Windows Phone. The challenge is getting everything to work just right from a mixture of logistics and technology, and it looks just plain impossible to figure out.

On the other hand, Dish doesn’t have to go all-in with this bet. It could simply offer its 4G bandwidth as a reliable LTE hotspot alternative at a competitive price point. GPS mapping & service company DeLorme is among a small collection of companies offering Bluetooth-powered accessories for iPhones and Android devices alike, allowing users access to devices such as the inReach to communicate via satellite, send text messages, and get data access for mapping your present location. Dish may not be set to offer a full-blown wireless service, but it could offer a supplementary, supply-side service for carriers like Sprint, and offer a hotspot device for those looking for satellite-based internet. This service could very well mix in with the other wireless carriers on the market, maintain a niche, and attract (or even blend in) with Dish Home Internet customers. If Dish can’t get a big partner like Google or Sprint on its side with its spectrum, a niche service could still stand as an effective backup plan for the company.

Lastly, Dish could just call it a day and sell its spectrum. This is perhaps the last thing Dish would want to do, but blending the wireless world with satellite technology may prove to be too expensive and difficult. A quick sell is always an option, and with folks like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint with plenty of equity, and Google looking to jump into the wireless ring, there’s no doubt someone will take the spectrum off Dish’s hands if it really wanted to call it quits.

Whether Dish decides to throw its hat into the mobile ring or not, all eyes are on the company as it make its play. Dish could start a wireless venture, offer a supply-side service, or just sell its spectrum and move on. However, with plans in the making for over a year, and we don’t think Dish will abandon everything overnight. By purchasing Blockbuster, Dish proved that it can think outside the box. We can’t wait to see what it has up its sleeve.

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