Whereas Dish Network’s last quarterly conference call was all about whether it was going to meet its June 14 deadline for building out its 5G network, its latest call was more about the pace at which it’s going meet 2023 and 2025 deadlines.

The next milestone Dish faces is covering 70% of the U.S. population by June 2023. After that comes the really big challenge of covering 75% of the population in each of about 400 or so Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) by mid-2025.

How it’s getting there is slow and steady, according to executives on Wednesday’s conference call to discuss second quarter financial results. But in the near term, they’ve also got some big challenges to overcome if they’re ever going to make money in wireless.

Dish has 5,000 sites deployed and on air for its 5G standalone (SA), open Radio Access Network (RAN) network. It’s on pace to roll out about 1,000 sites a month, and it will continue on that track throughout this year and into next year, said Dave Mayo, EVP of Network Development. The goal is to be on 15,000 towers next year.

In terms of quality, “I think we’re pretty happy with the data experience,” he said. “I think we continue to have work to do on the VoNR experience, as does the rest of the industry. We’re not unique in that respect.”

VoLTE took some time to get it working when it was initially rolled out about 10 years ago, and at that time, carriers had the circuit-switched system to fall back on. With 5G, the end game is to have a Voice over New Radio (VoNR) network.

“We don’t have that but we will have a VoNR network that is standalone and will operate well,” he said. “We’ll launch VoNR when we have that capability fully optimized and available and working really well for our customers. We’ve got the MVNO deals [with T-Mobile and AT&T] to support us until we get to that point.”

Dish had to make a choice as to whether it wanted to put a lot of legacy gear into its network for voice and decided to go with the better technology of VoNR, said Dish co-founder and Chairman Charlie Ergen. “That has been an unexpected negative in the sense that has taken longer” than expected.

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