DISH Tests 800 MHz Spectrum Use

The FCC has granted DISH Wireless (NASDAQ: DISH) a Special Temporary Authorization (STA) to conduct 5G testing in low-band 800 MHz in Yuma, AZ. The STA allows tests utilizing the 3GPP band n26 in the 817-824 MHz/862-869 MHz frequency range over an area covering a 50-mile radius. DISH began a six-month trial which is expected to run to September 30 this year. 

Under the T-Mobile/Sprint merger agreement with the Department of Justice, DISH acquired Sprint’s prepaid Boost Mobile business. Furthermore, DISH was to purchase 13.5 MHz of 800 MHz spectrum that was previously used by Sprint/Nextel, as part of DISH’s agreement with DoJ to become the fourth national wireless carrier. The 800 MHz nationwide licenses provide DISH with a significant wide area coverage capability even though the bandwidth is very limited for high-speed data throughput applications.

To become a national carrier, DISH must meet stringent population coverage targets or it could forfeit spectrum licenses and face significant fines, Inside Towers reported. The company met its first 20 percent coverage target in June 2022, utilizing its own AWS-4, Lower 700 MHz E Block and AWS H Block spectrum that are combined in the new n70 band. Now it is racing to meet a 70 percent coverage bogey by June 2023, and must reach 75 percent coverage by 2025. Utilizing the 800 MHz spectrum would help in meeting those coverage targets.

The 800 MHz spectrum originally was priced at around $3.6 billion. DISH will face a $72 million penalty if the transaction does not close. As part of the agreement, T-Mobile can lease back a portion of the purchased spectrum as needed until 2025 following the closing of this deal.

Questions about DISH’s stance on buying those 800 MHz licenses arose during the company’s 4Q22 earnings call. DISH Chairman Charlie Ergen said that there were “positive developments in terms of a return on the 800 MHz spectrum” that have raised DISH’s valuation of that spectrum. DISH CFO Paul Orban added that the probability that DISH would exercise its option to buy the spectrum from T-Mobile has increased. The company did not elaborate on those positive developments.

By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor

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