Dish co-founder Charlie Ergen this week estimated the satellite TV provider would spend more than $10 billion to build a nationwide 5G network in coming years.
An initial build-out of a network to support Internet of Things applications, meanwhile, would cost between $500 million and $1 billion over the next two years, Ergen said during a question-and-answer session at Connectivity Expo in Charlotte, N.C.
Ergen stepped down as Dish’s chief executive last year in order to focus on wireless projects after the company spent billions in federal spectrum auctions. He kept the company’s plans quiet at the time, but this week disclosed a timeline as Dish faces a deadline to deploy some of its spectrum — 654 days from Wednesday, he noted.
The first of two phases of a wireless build would involve developing a 4G network for IoT systems. Ergen said the company has already ordered radios for the network, and that cores will be installed this summer so testing can begin in the fall.
Then, Ergen said, “We get to show what we can do.”
Dish plans to use narrowband technology for the IoT network, which Ergen said would likely be part of the standards established by 3GPP. He added that NB-IoT propagates “pretty far,” allows the company to build a large network without massive spectrum holdings and, crucially, to be able to upgrade to 5G.
The company’s spectrum holdings in the 600 MHz band will not be cleared until the summer of 2020, Ergen noted, but once that happens and standards are in place, Dish expects to spend at least $10 billion to construct a nationwide 5G network to power remote health care, autonomous vehicles and other advanced technologies.
“You’re going to need a different kind of network than you have today,” Ergen said.
Ergen acknowledged that Dish has no experience building a network and conceded the company lacks the cash flow of the major wireless carriers.
But unlike those carriers, he said, Dish doesn’t have to deal with legacy systems and can start with “a clean sheet of paper.”
“This is a startup business for us,” Ergen said.