Dish Network is reportedly close to announcing a deal to sell mobile plans through Amazon, a move that could give its fledgling mobile business a shot in the arm.
The US mobile operator is holding talks with the online retail giant and could unveil details of new plans to be sold on Amazon as soon as next month, the Wall Street Journal reported late last week, citing unnamed sources familiar with the situation.
The sources added that there are a number of factors that could still delay or even derail the launch, but did not elaborate. In a comment to the paper Dish said it does not have any type of distribution deal or partnership with Amazon at present, although that does not necessarily mean there’s nothing in the pipeline, of course.
Such a partnership would be a great move for Dish, which is essentially in the process of setting itself up as a credible fourth mobile network operator in the US, but remains a long way behind the big three.
The operator bought itself a mobile customer base when it picked up MVNO Boost Mobile as a result of the T-Mobile US/Sprint merger three years ago. It is also building out an open RAN 5G network that it formally launched a year ago, but it has had trouble attracting customers. And as we learnt at its recent first quarter results announcement, most of its mobile traffic is still carried by AT&T and T-Mobile, rather than via its own infrastructure.
A lack of devices compatible with Dish’s Band 70 spectrum, which forms a major part of its 5G holding, has been a big factor in the telcos inability to sign up new customers, but company executives said on the Q1 numbers call that more phones are coming, including the iPhone, which should help matters.
That being the case, adding a heavyweight like Amazon as a retail channel would surely give the operator a huge leg-up, and one that it really needs if it is compete with AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.
At the end of March Dish had 7.91 million mobile customers, having recorded 81,000 net losses during the quarter and 290,000 over the previous 12 months. That customer base – of largely fairly low-spend prepaid users – has been in decline since Dish bought Boost, but the operator’s focus for the future is really on that 5G network and the higher ARPU, postpaid customers it could bring in.
It is not realistic to expect Dish to start seriously challenging the big guns in the short term; its customer base pales into insignificance compared with AT&T’s 223 million customers and connections at the end of Q1, of which 85.4 million were postpaid customers. But it does need to do something to break into that lucrative postpaid market, particularly given that it is spending heavily on network deployment.
Next month it comes up against its next FCC rollout deadline. It is required to reach 70% of the US population via its 600 MHz licences in June, and seems confident of hitting that target. But it comes at a price. Dish is spending around $10 billion on 5G rollout, and although it expects its capital spending to fall once it reaches the 70% target, it still has a lot of dollars to claw back.
Amazon’s reach could get it at least part of the way.
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