5G home internet service is the talk of the broadband world, with T-Mobile, Verizon, and now AT&T seeing intense interest — and customer sign-ups — for their offerings. But DISH Network, the only other company with a 5G network that covers a large part of the country, doesn’t seem interested in taking part in the trend.
DISH Chairman Charlie Ergen pointed to the government’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which provides funding for broadband providers to expand their networks into regions with little-to-no internet access, as one reason why he’s been reluctant. He argued that the funding, which allows competitors to build out fiber optic infrastructure, gives those players an unfair advantage against DISH.
“If everything was fair and level, and the best technology won, I’d be unbelievably bullish on fixed wireless,” Ergen said on a Monday conference call to discuss its third-quarter results. “But with government subsidies to help with a fiber build out, you aren’t going to compete with that.”
In addition, he expressed disappointment that the Federal Communications Commission has not ruled in favor of using its 12 Ghz frequency for fixed wireless access on a ground system. DISH has a swath of 12 Ghz spectrum, which was originally intended for satellite transmission. The FCC, for instance, has set aside that band for satellite providers like Starlink to use for internet access.
The comments come at an interesting time given DISH is in a particularly vulnerable position, and could use the injection of growth. The company lost 64,000 pay-TV customers in the period, which includes satellite TV and its Sling TV streaming businesses. It’s future growth will depend on wireless, but the company also lost 225,000 net subscribers in the period.
Unlike other pay-TV providers like Charter or Comcast, it doesn’t have an internet access business to fall back on. Which is why a 5G home internet service, at least on paper, would make sense. Growth in 5G home internet, driven by the simple pricing and easy self-installation, has outstripped traditional internet growth, particularly as people drop slower services DSL. In the last quarter, Verizon added 384,000 5G home internet customers, while T-Mobile added 557,000 net new 5G home internet customers. AT&T, which had just over a month with its initial rollout of its 5G-based Internet Air service, added 25,000 customers.
But setting up a 5G home internet service would take an investment in devices like modem, as well as customer service and a retail strategy. The company is still working out the proper strategy for its core wireless business, which Ergen admitted has had its share of missteps.
When asked about how Boost or DISH’s wireless service were virtually unknowns in the marketplace, Ergen acknowledged the issue.
“We’re making more mistakes that we’d have liked,” Ergen acknowledged. “But we’re failing fast and we’re learning, and that’ll pay off for us.”
The problems stem from the company’s decision to primarily focus on a digital storefront, which doesn’t have much a presence. It’s also working to expand its partnership with Amazon to better promote the Boost service to Prime members.
Ergen said that the wireless numbers look particularly bad this period because it had shifted its strategy to pursue more profitable customers — or people willing to stick with the service longer.
Ergen added that he was adamant that DISH not pursue the kinds of businesses that other wireless carriers go after, instead preferring to go where it can offer something different. That plus all of
“Until we see that sorted out on government policy, it’ll be tricky on the fixed wireless side,” he said.