Image source: Finacial Times
During the T-Mobile-Sprint merger negotiations, Dish Network outlined an aggressive plan in which it would build a wireless network from scratch and have it commercially available by June 2023.
Many industry insiders feared that the timeline was too short, and those concerns grew when it became clear that Dish planned to build a wireless network unlike any that had ever been built before.
The Ambitious Dish 5G Plan
Dish Network promised regulators that it would have a wireless network in place that would provide service to 20 percent of America by June 2022 and 70 percent of America by June 2023.
The original goal was to have a beta program up and running in Las Vegas by the fourth quarter of 2020. The hope was that the beta would provide a blueprint that could essentially be copied and pasted in other markets.
While Dish was bullish early on, industry experts warned that not only was the timeline overly aggressive but that Dish seemed to be repeating the mistakes of other companies from outside the telecom industry that had underestimated just how difficult it is to build a wireless network that can serve the public.
Aggressive Schedule Beset by Delays
As mentioned, the initial goal was to have the beta program up and running through the fourth quarter of 2020. That would be pushed to the first quarter of 2021 and then the third quarter.
As it stands, the beta program is expected to go live in September, and that would provide the entire fourth quarter to assess customer feedback and make changes.
But even if Dish was ready to progress full steam ahead come January—which seems unlikely—it probably would not achieve its June 2022 goal.
An Innovative Approach at the Heart of the Problem
Building a 5G network is an enormous challenge. But Dish is not just building a 5G network. It is building a greenfield 5G network, and greenfield refers to the absence of limitations imposed by existing infrastructure.
That sounds like a good thing, but it is also a massive challenge in its own right. Dish along with Amazon Web Services is building a network in which the core operates in the public cloud.
Once implemented, there is fantastic potential associated with this approach, but it is also the first attempt at this ever. Dish is naturally making mistakes and having to learn from them.
Significant Experience on the Dish Team
Although Dish is from outside the telecom world and doing something no one else has even done before, it is important to avoid painting them as unexperienced and unprepared.
This team features top industry minds that have had great success with companies like T-Mobile, Nokia and Splint. These people have the skill and experience to get this done but perhaps did not manage expectations appropriately.
A Novel Organizational Approach and Logistical Challenges
Most wireless network operators are centralized in their command structure. Dish has taken a different approach. It has organized U.S. coverage into four regions and 36 markets.
Each regional manager has great control over his or her particular region, and this is true with the market managers as well.
The belief was this would allow for faster expansion because you would have team members in place who were prepared to overcome the challenges unique to those markets.
But these localized managers have faced numerous logistical challenges. Many of these were unexpected and due to the pandemic.
All Eyes on Dish
The country has a vested interest in Dish succeeding. But building a new wireless network is not easy. The entire industry is watching closely the efforts and execution but also the pressure on Dish.
A success story could shape the telecom industry for decades to come. A failure could as well.