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Dish reveals major case of Sour Grapes over Qualcomm spectrum sale

Dish Network, not too surprisingly, has gathered a few other objectors around it to try to block the sale of Qualcomm’s UHF spectrum to AT&T, a deal t


Published: 17 March, 2011


Dish Network, not too surprisingly, has gathered a few other objectors around it to try to block the sale of Qualcomm’s UHF spectrum to AT&T, a deal that was announced in January this year at a colossal $1.9 billion.

Dish CEO Charlie Ergen has always had a reputation as something of a gambler, but this attempt to block the sale of comparable spectrum to that which Dish acquired for $712 million in the 2008 US UHF auctions, has something of the sour grapes of a gambler who has already lost, about it.

Dish Network has combined with Cellular South, the Rural Cellular Association and what it describes as a group of open Internet advocates, and they are all asking the FCC to block AT&T's $1.9 billion purchase of Qualcomm's Flo TV spectrum saying it would further skew the market in favor of an AT&T, Verizon duopoly.

"The Commission should deny the Applications because entrusting additional beachfront spectrum to AT&T would cause irreparable harm to competition and consumers," the RCA said in its FCC filing. "In a market that is teetering dangerously on the brink of true duopoly, the Commission should not tip the balance further."

The real reason for Ergen’s disquiet is that the spectrum in question is all of what used to be analog TV channel 55 and handfuls of markets for Channel 56 in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Dish holds channel 56 in the rest of the US having been outbid by Qualcomm for those five markets only.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that LTE as a technology can harness pretty much any spectrum it likes, and use different up and down channels, and doesn’t need contiguous spectrum in order to build an effective network. This has been facilitated by Qualcomm’s promise to AT&T to build out technology for carrier aggregation within LTE, which is the process whereby multiple spectrum pieces can be used to upload data to phones, especially responses to wireless broadband requests.

We argued at the time that this changes the very nature of spectrum and allows for tiny pieces of one way spectrum to sit spare and waiting for the odd upload job, as long as some form of software defined radio shifts the handset’s main stream of data to whatever spectrum is allocated.

Prior to Qualcomm’s promise it was unclear if anyone would bother to implement carrier aggregation from the LTE standard.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless had already bought their main 700 MHz spectrum in the auction to use for their respective LTE networks for around $16 billion, and Dish is now arguing that AT&T should be forced to divest itself of – guess what? Those New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco territories which if acquired by Dish would give Dish full national coverage in its own spectrum.

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