DISH has spectrum for urban people and rural land, but maybe not for rural Californians

13 August 2019 by Steve Blum
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Dish aws3 spectrum per allnet insights and analytics via fiercewireless

Analysis done by Allnet Insights & Analytics for FierceWireless raises doubts about whether the settlement reached by the federal justice department with T-Mobile, Sprint and their new partner, DISH, will make a meaningful difference in rural California. The question is whether DISH has enough of the right kind of spectrum to offer the same kind of fast, high capacity broadband service it might in urban areas to California’s particular kind of rural communities.

The analysis and accompanying maps, as presented in an excellent article by Monics Alleven, “suggest DISH owns a lot of spectrum”. But it’s not evenly spread across California’s land area…

Allnet Insights President Brian Goemmer said he has typically focused on Dish’s spectrum holdings in major markets, and was surprised that Dish’s AWS–3 spectrum is fairly limited in rural areas. Based on his assessment, coverage is going to be Dish’s big challenge. There’s a big difference between covering all of the U.S. population versus having good enough coverage to take rural customers from AT&T and Verizon.

AWS–3 spectrum is a grab bag of frequencies that the FCC auctioned off beginning in 2014. It’s what’s known as mid-band spectrum, in the 1.7 GHz and 2.1 GHz ranges. Those bands are the workhorses of the mobile telecommunications world, with a good balance of total capacity, and propagation distance and penetration.

Those bands are particularly important in many parts of rural California, such as the Salinas and San Joaquin valleys, where people live in densely populated small (by Californian standards) communities. Low-band spectrum, which is typically thought of as a rural solution, is good at serving wide areas with low density populations, but won’t be as effective in what are for all practical purposes mini-urban communities in the middle of largely unpopulated rural areas.

It’s another good reason for the California Public Utilities Commission to take a fresh look at the merger, and not blindly accept the wisdom of T-Mobile and its friends in Washington, D.C.