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Dish Not Interested in Buying More Wireless Spectrum

5/07/2012 2:05 PM Eastern

Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen said the satellite giant is not looking to buy additional wireless spectrum - including that of troubled LightSquared - as it awaits Federal Communications Commission approval for transfer of the spectrum it already owns.
LightSquared, backed by hedge fund billionaire Philip Falcone, received a one-week extension from creditors Monday, avoiding a potential bankruptcy filing for now. The company has been trying to build its own wireless high-speed data network for years, but has hit regulatory and funding roadblocks along the way.
On a conference call with analysts to discuss Dish's first quarter results, Ergen said that he believes he has enough spectrum to either build out its own network or partner with another provider. Dish has about 45 Megahertz of spectrum, 40MHz of that purchased in deals valued at about $3 billion. The company is currently awaiting FCC approval to have the licenses transferred for its use.
"If we're allowed to enter the marketplace, our 45 MHz of spectrum is certainly enough for us to enter the marketplace and compete," Ergen said.
Ergen said that Dish has several choices, including building its own network, partnering with another provider or selling off the licenses. He added that Dish would most likely partner with another provider.
"It probably makes sense to work with people who are already in the business," Ergen said. "They have already have towers, they already have the relationships they already have spectrum, they already have handsets. It makes sense to work with them because we bring something that makes the transition for them, particularly to LTE, much easier. We also bring video in a way they may not be able to do it themselves."
Later on the call, asked by one analyst if he was willing to spend the $10 billion estimated Dish would need to build its own network, Ergen said it would depend on the rate of return.
"I'd be happy to spend $10 billion if we could get a 50% return on it every year," Ergen said. "I would not be happy to spend $10 billion if we could only get a 3% return on it every year."
Ergen said building that network could take up to four years. Finding a partner would enable Dish to come to market with a wireless product "much, much sooner," he added.

September