The launch of a new 5G network should be cause for celebration; we should be blowing little 5G kazoos and wearing eyeglasses in the shape of 5s and Gs. This week, great news came out of Las Vegas: Dish's 5G network is real, according to Signals Research Group, and it has more than 100 towers in Las Vegas.
Anyone who likes competition should be over the moon about this. A fourth national wireless provider can be the maverick that keeps everyone else honest. With 40MHz of spectrum in Las Vegas, Dish isn't going to be able to match speeds against the other carriers' 100MHz portfolios. But that may not matter to the average user who just wants a decent connection at $25 per month.
Network buildout is a marathon, not a sprint, though. Dish's current situation reminds me a lot of Freedom/Wind in Canada, a maverick provider that had disruptive prices and attracted 2.1 million subscribers—the equivalent of 18.48 million in the US—but could never summon the massive bank needed to expand beyond a few major metro areas. That said, if Dish manages to get 20 million subscribers onto its network, I'd call it a success for competition in America.
The problem is…it's Dish, and its communications strategy is abysmal. The company has delayed its public launch several times (it's currently Q1 2022, up from Q3 2021), and it has years' worth of other statements about how it's going to launch a cellular network…eventually. It's nigh impossible to figure out when it's telling the truth about anything.
A good case in point is what should be another feel-good story about the company—Dish's involvement with Helium and FreedomFi's crypto-for-coverage plans. This is a brilliant, innovative way to expand wireless coverage. FreedomFi will sell little cell sites you can put in your window that would use the unlicensed parts of the CBRS band to gather cellular traffic and send it over your home or business cable/fiber connection, and you'd get paid.
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Since this is a column and not a news story, I can say what I think is happening. Dish will pay Helium 50 cents per gig; Helium will pay everyone who hosts a hotspot in their HNT crypto tokens; and the cable providers get left holding the data traffic, which is a weak point in the plan, but let's just enjoy the schadenfreude there while we can.
Dish's communication about this is opaque and confusing, once again illustrating it can successfully turn innovation into a muddy mess.
Dish innovation or no, next year will bring major, needed changes to the 5G scene in the US. Earlier this week I tested Verizon's millimeter-wave 5G in what you'd think are ideal hotspots for the short-range, high-speed technology: crowded holiday markets in New York City. After two years, Verizon can't even reliably cover a whole park or square with the technology. That jibes with two other studies that came out this week, one saying that mmWave does an amazing job offloading traffic and handling congestion, and the other saying that Verizon still hasn't been able to offer consistent enough coverage to be meaningful. mmWave would be a great technology if carriers could only actually build it.
The solution to this puzzle, it's looking like, will be CBRS and C-band. All I want for Christmas is a Verizon C-band launch, and I think I'm going to get it on January 5—look for news and results in my newsletter on January 7.
What Else Happened This Week?
I think we now have good evidence that there's going to be a new iPhone SE next spring.
Oppo has a cool new folding phone that you'll never get to use. The more important info is how it's merging Oppo and OnePlus camera technology.
US sanctions killed Huawei's handset business, but completely failed to affect its infrastructure business, which was the actual security threat. Yay, US sanctions!
The telecom industry is apparently trying to stop the confirmation of Gigi Sohn, a consumer advocate, to the FCC. They're right to be scared of her, but she needs to get through.
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