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DISH Jumps Into the Wireless Fray

A report released by telecom infrastructure and services provider Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC  ) predicts that by 2016, mobile data traffic will have increased by a factor of 10. In other words, the number of mobile broadband users will more than double each year for the next five years.

That means there will be a bitter fight for the means -- spectrum and networks -- in which to accommodate all those users.

DISH Network's (Nasdaq: DISH  ) plan to be one of the 4G LTE networks that these wireless customers will end up using has just cleared an important obstacle.

Last summer, DISH bought two satellite operators, TerreStar and DBSD, in bankruptcy court. But Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) claimed that both those companies owed it millions of dollars in bandwidth fees. DISH just settled with Sprint as the latter company sought to deny TerreStar's and DBSD's spectrum to DISH.

But Sprint is still opposing another aspect of DISH's mobile broadband plan, the part where the TerreStar and DBSD resources will be used to operate a satellite/terrestrial LTE network. DISH would then be a direct competitor with LightSquared and another complication in its star-crossed attempts to roll out its own satellite/terrestrial LTE network.

After Sprint turned its back on Clearwire's (Nasdaq: CLWR  ) 4G WiMAX network and essentially gave it a no-confidence vote, it signed a deal with LightSquared to provide it an LTE network. But that plan has been upset by the GPS industry claiming that LightSquared's network will interfere with GPS systems.

As another thorn in LightSquared's side, instead of being opposed by the GPS industry -- as LightSquared has been -- DISH has received an endorsement from the U.S. GPS Industry Council.

Now, Sprint and other potential users of a LightSquared network, such as T-Mobile and MetroPCS (NYSE: PCS  ) , have been opposing DISH's entry into the satellite/terrestrial wireless circus. The two largest wireless carriers, AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) , haven't taken sides in this, as their LTE deployment plans are not incumbent upon either satellite operator's plans.

The FCC has not yet ruled on whether or not LightSquared can unleash its network, but DISH jumping into the fray throws even more uncertainty into LightSquared's future -- and, by association, Sprint's. Not surprisingly, Sprint has been taking another look at Clearwire as a potential LTE partner.

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Fool contributor Dan Radovsky owns shares of AT&T. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On November 07, 2011, at 4:17 PM, spokanimal wrote:

    Regarding your comment:

    "In other words, the number of mobile broadband users will more than double each year for the next five years.

    That means there will be a bitter fight for the means -- spectrum and networks -- in which to accommodate all those users"

    ... The last time I checked, Clearwire controlled about 23% of all spectrum that's licensed for wireless telephony & internet.

    What is unique about Clearwire's holdings is that it's NOT already allocated to 2G, 3G, etc. as is true with Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile... who are all hurting for spectrum capacity. Clearwire is currently using only a tiny fraction of their holdings... it's virtually all "dry powder".

    Furthermore, Clearwire's infrastructure is all 2010-vintage. It's all-IP, all-digital, nicely backhauled and it reaches 133 million potential subscribers (POPs).

    Finally, in order to overcome "penetration" issues with their 2.5 ghz spectrum, Clearwire had to build it's infrastructure more "dense" than other carriers. While that made it more costly to build it, the positive side-effect of that is that it has much more capacity per square mile due to it's smaller cell-tower, service diameters and higher frequencies.

    Virtually everything ABOUT clearwire screams "solution" at your comment.


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