EchoStar’s DISH Wireless Still Seeing Red

EchoStar (NASDAQ: SATS) says it is making progress in its DISH Wireless business. Recall that EchoStar, operating as DISH at the time, garnered T-Mobile’s Boost Mobile prepaid business with roughly 9.4 million subscribers during the T-Mobile (NASDAQ: TMUS)-Sprint merger, Inside Towers reported. With Boost Mobile as an MVNO on the T-Mobile and AT&T networks, DISH would generate revenue while the 5G Network Deployment was underway. The company would then move prepaid customers to postpaid subs on DISH’s own network. DISH budgeted $10 billion in capital expenditures to build a nationwide cloud native Open RAN 5G network. How’s that working out?

DISH has lost subscribers every quarter since taking over. Boost Mobile ended 1Q24 with 7.3 million subscribers, down from 7.9 million in 1Q23. Wireless service revenues were $804 million in the quarter, flat sequentially but down seven percent year-over-year. The YoY decrease was due to a smaller wireless subscriber base, partially offset by lower churn and an increase in wireless ARPU. With the prepaid business sliding, the company is improving its offerings and execution in the postpaid space, saying that is a key objective for the back half of 2024. 

EchoStar reported $391 million in 5G Network Deployment capex compared to $672 million in 1Q23. The company expects its 2024 capex run rate to be about half of the $2.6 billion spent in 2023. Over the past four years, the company has invested $6.3 billion in aggregate capex in its 5G Network Deployment. 

“We now have the largest commercial deployment of 5G VoNR in the world reaching approximately 200 million Americans and 5G broadband service reaching approximately 250 million Americans,” says John Swieringa, EchoStar President, Technology & COO.

In March, the company completed network drive tests and filed the results with the FCC, certifying that its 5G network provides download speeds of 35 Mbps or greater to more than 70 percent of the U.S. population. 

The company says it is focused on expanding and optimizing the Boost 5G network to compete against the incumbents and on meeting its third FCC coverage milestone of 75 percent of PEAs by June, 2025. “Our immediate focus has been on capital investments and optimizations required to have a competitive network for Boost customers within our existing and future footprint,” says Swieringa. “This is a logical progression for us as we move from an accelerated build to running and optimizing our markets with a P&L mindset.”

The company says that it successfully initiated the migration of “hundreds of thousands of customers” from T-Mobile and AT&T networks to the 5G network, suggesting this on-net subscriber base will continue to grow throughout the year. 

Swieringa says the DISH engineering team has been working on executing the network deployment plan and operating its cloud-native open RAN network. He added that the company has enabled the first of its kind over-the-air migrations with minimal customer impact. 

Though still in the early stages of commercializing the network, Swieringa says that on-net customers are experiencing accessibility, retainability and throughput performance on par with competitive services, including new global roaming services.

As the number of network compatible devices and its 5G voice coverage continues to grow throughout the year, EchoStar expects device activations on its network to increase as it focuses on loading the network and gaining owners’ economics. 

Swieringa says that they will meet the June 2025 milestone using low-band 600 MHz for wide area coverage then adding the unpaired Band 70 AWS-3 mid-band uplink for capacity.

By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor

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