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The big gamble on mobile spectrum or mobile services being made by Dish Network might take a while to reach a final conclusion.

Dish has assembled a portfolio of about 55 MHz of spectrum to support Long Term Evolution networks, but some note it faces a 2017 deadline to get 40 percent of that spectrum activated, allowing mobile customers to buy service.

There is a catch. Dish can miss the deadline, face a penalty, but still keep its spectrum if it makes the second deadline of 70 percent coverage by 2020.

Dish might also face some legal challenges around the 25 percent discount it is receiving to buy the AWS-3 spectrum it won in the recent AWS-3 spectrum auction.

Neither AT&T nor Verizon will do anything they can avoid to enable Dish Network’s entry into the U.S. mobile market, as well. An argument can be made that new shared spectrum initiatives, new unlicensed spectrum and millimeter wave capacity will provide the additional capacity either firm might need.

Should Dish fail to activate its spectrum it loses the licenses, and the gamble fails. So AT&T and Verizon will have strong incentives to use the other traditional methods–network architecture, air interfaces and offload–to keep growing capacity.

Verizon has been thought among the possible buyers, but, as you would expect, Verizon says it is in no hurry to acquire additional spectrum, even if it remains open to “secondary market” transactions.

In fact, Verizon seems to be saying it has no need for a few, or several years, a time frame that puts Verizon past the window when Dish Network would have needed to act, one way or the other, to put that spectrum to work supporting an actual mobile business of some kind.

There are other options for Verizon. Some believe Sprint might put some of its surplus spectrum up for sale, for example. Verizon also is looking at unlicensed spectrum, and says it also would consider leasing some spectrum.

Looking only at spectrum, Dish Network now controls about as much capacity as does T-Mobile US. A network, and a retail service, it does not yet have. Whether there are other buyers is an open question. Apple, Google and Comcast are the names that come to mind.

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