Last week Dish Networks applied for terrestrial TD-LTE service to the FCC. They want to consolidate their two 20 MHz spectrum chunks, currently dedicated to TerreStar and DBSD/ICO satellite phones. Dish wants to provide terrestrial TD-LTE phone service nationwide using that spectrum.

Dish asked the FCC for a waiver to use the combined spectrum to offer terrestrial-only service (pdf). DISH Networks now owns some 40MHz in the 2.1 GHz MSS satellite band. It is now positioned to deliver a competitive terrestrial LTE service, nationwide.

The current speculation is that Dish will team up with an established cellular carrier to built out their terrestrial network. Since they announced support of TD-LTE, one might first think of Sprint/Clearwire. But other providers such as Leap Wireless and Metro PCS as well as Verizon and AT&T could also be partners.

But there is another aspect of the Dish strategy — the 700 MHz spectrum. EchoStar owns most of the unpaired “E Block in the 700 MHz band. EchoStar (Frontier) picked up 168 of the total 176 E-Block licenses (map) for more than $711 million during the spectrum auction in 2008, according to the FCC’s Web site.

700 MHz Spectrum Winners (2008)
Source: Telephony
Bidder Total bids Spectrum acquired
#1 Verizon Wireless $9.36B C Block open access covering lower 48/key metro and economic areas
#2 AT&T $6.64B B Block metro licenses in large cities across the U.S.
#3 EchoStar/DISH Network $711M 168 E block (unpaired) licenses across the U.S.
#4 Qualcomm $588M E Block licenses in Boston, Los Angeles and New York City; placed sole bid on D Block public safety license (but didn’t win)
#5 MetroPCS $313M Single A Block license in Boston
#6 Cox Communications $304M 14 A block, 8 B block
#7 US Cellular $300M 25 A block, 127 B block
#8 Cellular South $191M 14 A block, 10 B block
#9 CenturyTel $150M A and B Block licenses in its LEC territory
#10 Vulcan Spectrum $112.8 $43.6 million for A Block” in Portland, Salem and $69 million for Seattle, Tacoma, Bremerton

What could EchoStar do with one, unpaired 6 MHz chunk in the “E block”? Not much, it seems. Mobile television went south. Qualcomm tried mobile TV and it failed. Now the company is trying to sell its unpaired 700MHz frequencies to AT&T. Qualcomm currently owns most of the other nationwide, unpaired 700 MHz spectrum in the “D block”.

AT&T hopes to supplement capacity on its planned LTE network by taking MediaFLO spectrum and pairing it with spectrum in the AWS (1.7/2.1 MHz), PCS (1900 MHz) or 850 MHz cellular bands. Interference problems preclude the operator from bonding Qualcomm’s spectrum with AT&T’s lower 700 MHz B- and C-block spectrum, reports Fierce Wireless.

But hold on. Could EchoStar (Frontier) deliver two-way telephony using TD-LTE in 6 MHz? And what if they could get Qualcomm’s spectrum to create a 10 MHz block in the 700 MHz band?

MetroPCS (below) is currently using LTE in narrow channels. MetroPCS might go national, teamed with EchoStar’s 700 MHz spectrum.

If EchoStar’s unpaired E block was combined with Qualcomm’s D block, the resulting 10 MHz of spectrum would be real competition for AT&T and Verizon. IF the FCC allowed two-way voice and data on those two unpaired 700 MHz chunks. IF they could get the spectrum. IF the money were available for 700 MHz buildout.

AT&T needs to take that option off the table. AT&T says they may use Qualcomm’s spectrum to gang carriers together, for additional download capacity.

Sprint needs a 700 MHz play. At 700 MHz, only one third the towers are required. Sprint and MetroPCS might make a run for the unpaired D and E blocks for a total of 10 MHz in the lower 700 MHz band. Sprint may be able to combine that with their 17 MHz chunk in the 800 MHz band, currently dedicated to Nextel’s iDEN system.

Then there’s the possibility that the 700 MHz “D Block” WILL be auctioned. The satellite/700MHz link would be good for public service users. Google and Microsoft might put up a billion or two towards the 700MHz effort. That would put Sprint in the catbird seat — 20 MHz on 700 and 17MHz on 850 for broad coverage, the satphone plan for rural and public service users, and the 2.6 GHz TD-LTE spectrum for urban “wireless DSL” and capital from spectrum sales.

If Dish (Echostar) is to emerge as a national wireless competitor, they might:

  • Attempt to stop the AT&T acquisition of Qualcomm’s unpaired spectrum.
  • Merge the unpaired D and E blocks together to create 10 MHz at 700 MHz
  • Forge a carrier relationship for 700 MHz & 2.1 GHz terrestrial networks

Perhaps Clearwire and cable operators should take 20-30 GHz in the 2.6 GHz band and split. Sprint and Dish might then team on the 700 MHz and MSS band. Or visa-versa.

That leaves Sprint with 60-80 MHz in the 2.6GHz band. They could sell about half that (20-40 MHz) to AT&T or Verizon for “world band” LTE phones. The remainder might be used by Sprint or wholesaled to Apple, Amazon, Microsoft or Google.

What about Lightsquared? It’s an interesting $350 million spotbeam satphone platform (like ICO and TerraStar were).

But unlike ICO and TerraStar, Lightsquared has to battle with GPS interference. Stick a fork in it, Philip. Time to move on.

Related DailyWireless Space and Satellite News includes; Spectrum Drama: Made for TV, Ergen Likely Got TerreStar, Charlie Ergen’s Spectacular Triple Play, Dish Networks: Wireless Play is On, Lightsquared + Sprint Deal Done?, Clearwire Chooses LTE Advanced, Will Sprint Go TD-LTE?, Clearwire Buyout Rumored , WiMAX to TD-LTE: Everybody’s Doin’ It, Speculation on Sprint Infrastructure, LG Telecom: CDMA & LTE Handover, LTE Spectrum: It’s War, MetroPCS Eyes TerreStar, FCC Okays Terrestrial LTE for SkyTerra, TerreStar Successfully Launched, AT&T/TerreStar Ready Satphone Service, TerreStar Phones Home

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