This day has been a long time coming. Satellite TV operator DISH Network (NASDAQ:DISH) has been accumulating and hoarding wireless spectrum for years, which, in turn, naturally prompted speculation that the company was interested in becoming a mobile network operator. Most recently, DISH scooped up nearly half of the spectrum auctioned off by the FCC.
Yahoo! Finance is now reporting that DISH's entry may be imminent after getting its hands on a confidential document suggesting that DISH is looking for a new chief marketing officer to spearhead its efforts. In no uncertain terms, the document states that DISH is preparing to enter the wireless business and become the "only" company to offer wireless voice, video, and data services.
Is there room for a fifth carrier?
DISH is jumping into an already fairly crowded space. There have long been four national carriers and dozens of mobile virtual network operators riding on the coattails of the big four. DISH appears ready to build its own network, although a lot remains up in the air.
Even if it has the spectrum, building a wireless network infrastructure from the ground up requires years as well as billions of dollars in capital expenditures. A shortcut could be partnering with an existing carrier in some form, with DISH bringing its significant spectrum assets to the table.
There has been some discussion of DISH partnering with T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS). DISH Chairman and CEO said his company is keeping "all our options open" on the earnings call earlier this week, while T-Mobile CEO John Legere similarly made suggestive remarks on the Un-Carrier's February earnings call. Legere acknowledged that, looking at DISH's spectrum portfolio, he thinks a partnership is a "fascinating idea to consider."
Not the "only" one for long
It may be a little ambitious for DISH to hope to become the "only" provider of such a broad array of services. After all, AT&T's (NYSE:T) proposed $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV) is about to close, which would similarly make Ma Bell a provider of wireless voice, video, and data services. The deal was announced a year ago, and AT&T said at the time that it expected the transaction to close within 12 months.
Regulators are finishing up their reviews and appear unlikely to oppose the merger, although it's possible they may impose conditions, according to The Wall Street Journal. If DISH wants to be the first to the punch, it had better hurry.
Better late than never
DISH's best bet would be to partner with an existing mobile operator like T-Mobile. A lot of details would need to be worked out in terms of back-end infrastructure, marketing, and branding, but doing so could finally take advantage of DISH's considerable spectrum holdings while accelerating its time to market. That's especially true if DISH is currently shopping for a new chief marketing officer.
Some estimates peg the value of DISH's spectrum holdings at upwards of $50 billion. It's about time to put those assets to good use.