Acquiring and formatting spectrum and equipment is one of the biggest expenses in a wireless network buildout, so analysts think that Dish, who has most of those boxes already checked due to its cable presence, could end up building out a robust, FCC-approved wireless network with a total cost of less than $3 billion. Dish already has a vast wealth of network equipment available throughout the United States, and hold a considerable amount of spectrum, bolstered by $6.2 billion spent at the FCC's recent 600MHz spectrum auction. Essentially, this means that all Dish would have to do is make some tweaks to its network equipment and do some spectrum refarming and assignment, and it will have a network that complies with the FCC's requirements.
The FCC's requirements for network buildout in the mobile world vary based on a number of factors, but the guideline for Dish is a wireless network covering at least 70% of the places where it hold permits for spectrum that can be utilized in wireless networking. While the FCC is pushing Dish to get such a network built out and ready to use by 2020, Dish could be looking to sell off some of that spectrum. Putting the spectrum it wants to sell on a mobile network could not only buy the company the time it needs to find a good buyer, but would significantly increase the spectrum's value proposition; spectrum that is earmarked, developed, and ready for deployment is worth more than spectrum that is essentially just a fresh license.
It should be noted that building out the network is just the tip of the iceberg. After the network is built, analysts are estimating around $800 million per year in maintenance spending and other considerations. This is on top of repairs and other unexpected bills that may come with the new wireless network. Any further expansion of the network, repeated refarming to work with incoming 5G technologies, and building entirely new network equipment to help move that spectrum are all moves that are potentially on the table, and they will all come from Dish's shrinking free cash and capex budget. Naturally, all of these moves could potentially add to Dish's annual expenses as well due to more network devices demanding maintenance, and potentially more licensing going on.