Dish Network appears to have had a somewhat puzzling spectrum strategy in the AWS-3 auctions, essentially bidding against itself, in an apparent–and successful–effort to drive prices higher. Why Dish Network would want to do so is the question many will ask.
The obvious answer is that higher prices in the recent auction also mean higher prices for much of the spectrum Dish Network already owns. By some estimates, spectrum now accounts for as much as 80 percent of Dish Network equity value.
But one might also argue that if Dish Network really plans to build and operate a Long Term Evolution mobile network, it is somewhat illogical to deliberately drive up spectrum prices, which are a cost of doing business.
Driving up prices does make sense if what Dish Network has in mind is an asset sale.
The gamble has risks. Because the recent AWS-3 spectrum auction drove spectrum prices so high, the value of other spectrum arguably is higher as well.
If Dish Network is gambling on selling its spectrum, one problem is major spectrum sales by another supplier.
The biggest problem is a buyer boycott.
The former problem–a rival sale that takes buyers out of the spectrum purchase market–could happen if Sprint decides to sell off a significant portion of its 2-GHz spectrum.
The latter problem could happen if the other potential buyers, including but not limited to AT&T and Verizon, decide they would rather see Dish Network fail to sell its spectrum, and lose the rights to use the spectrum as well.
In that scenario, Dish Network’s LTE spectrum is returned to the government, and could be made available later.
At the same time, coming spectrum sharing, plus new unlicensed spectrum assignments, plus use of millimeter waves, will release far more inventory for mobile use, dampening the value of new licensed spectrum, to some extent.
Dish Network has made a big bet, and is gambling. The outcome is not yet clear.