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Dish the little TV company that could

By PETER WHITE

Published: 11 January, 2013

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It's hard to think of Dish as the little company that could, but it just might be. Its behavior is that of a company that really thinks it can mix it with everyone, and it surely wants to create the next cellular operator in the US.

So far it has only spent $2 billion, about one year's cash generation on the enterprise and it still has a long way to go, as the story of Clearwire will tell us. Cellular legend Craig McCaw tried to corner the market for spare spectrum, and created Clearwire around WiMAX technology when it was first emerging. Despite the choice of what at the time was the "best" technology, even McCaw could not take on the collected might of the cellular majors, who copied WiMAX as near as dammit and ended up with LTE.

That decision is the only reason that Clearwire's value is under any kind of threat, and if it was sat on a modern LTE network it would be worth five or six times the amount that Sprint plans to pay for it.

There are minority shareholder protections in the US as there are elsewhere and the only reason Dish feels it has to make a bid for Clearwire is because it doesn't believe that these protections will prevent Sprint from picking up Clearwire for what is, in cellular terms, small change, about the same amount that Dish has so far spent on cellular.

While Dish is constantly being reviled as the one player that has never been formally invited to the cellular party, it has always been the case that if a gatecrasher makes enough noise, and perhaps waves enough money, it is sometimes easier to just let him in, as long as he pays for his share of the wine.

Dish has confirmed that chairman Ergen is "in Asia" right now, the conclusion we are being asked to draw from this is that he's in Japan, speaking to Softbank, trying to convince them of some unholy alliance.

It is worth remembering that Sprint is the one major US cellular network which has no major TV interest, and which has the least to lose by getting into bed with Dish, so perhaps that's why the Dish - Clearwire - Sprint - Softbank combination is its favorite outcome.

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