Look for Sprint and DISH Networks to make an announcement about shared spectrum any day now.
So says an analyst at Yankee Group, who points to DISH chairman's recent visit to Asia – presumably for a meeting with Japan-based SoftBank, the soon-to-be owners of 70 percent of Sprint – as a sign that the details of an agreement are being hammered out.
"A deal with Dish — if it is both true and maxes out to its full potential — represents just the sort of opportunity Sprint needs," noted Yankee Group senior analyst Rich Karpinski, commenting on a Fierce Broadband Wireless article. "Other operators, perhaps most notably AT&T, have been rumored to be bumping the tires at Dish, which owns great swaths of spectrum (with some expected FCC-imposed restrictions) and more than 14 million satellite video customers — not to mention additional Blockbuster retail locations and customers — to which it could sell mobile data services. Access to spectrum from both Dish and Clearwire — yet another spectrum-rich Sprint partner — would position the operator strongly for future network and customer growth."
A deal between Sprint and DISH would likely culminate in the creation of a DISH-branded mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that uses the satellite company's AWS-4 spectrum on Sprint's wireless network, eventually helping Sprint expand its 4G LTE swath.
Most importantly, the deal could help Sprint better compete with its bigger rivals.
"When it comes to the structure of a possible Dish deal, a spectrum-sharing and network-enabling agreement versus an outright merger would certainly appeal to Sprint,' Karpinski added, "which years after its acquisition of rival Nextel is still wrestling with the costs and operational complexities of that deal. A Dish partnership could also potentially give Sprint a video partner to deliver next-generation multiscreen services, something larger rival AT&T has already done through its U-Verse unit, and Verizon is tackling even more aggressively via its own FiOS offering and co-marketing agreements with large cable providers."
SoftBank, which operates the third-largest wireless provider in Japan, is in the process of getting regulatory approval for its majority purchase of Sprint, America's third-largest wireless operator. It's infusion of cash is expected to help Sprint not only forge this deal with DISH, but also facilitate the purchase of the remaining half of Clearwire that it doesn't own.