Dish looks to stockpile more 4G airwaves

Dish Network(s dish) is already sitting on a nest egg of 4G frequencies, but this week it told U.S. regulators it wants to acquire more. In a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission on Monday, the satellite TV provider said it would participate in two upcoming spectrum auctions, according to an FCC filing.

The first of those auctions is called the Advanced Wireless Services-3 (AWS-3) auction, scheduled for this November. It will be the FCC’s attempt to create a shared commercial-government band. But the big prize is the 600 MHz airwaves going on the block in 2015 as part of the FCC’s enormously complex and controversial incentive auction.

Source: Shutterstock / fotographic1980
Source: Shutterstock / fotographic1980

The wireless industry views the low frequency 600 MHz band as a kind of spectrum diamond mine. Lower bands allow signals to propagate better; they can travel miles further than higher bands and punch through walls that PCS or AWS frequencies could never penetrate. For the last two years, carriers have spent a lot of political capital trying to maximize their chances of getting these airwaves.

Dish may be encouraged by the FCC’s planned auction rules, which will set aside a portion of the airwaves in every market for carriers that don’t have significant low-band spectrum holdings. Dish falls in that camp. In fact, almost every operator that isn’t AT&T(s t) or Verizon(s vz) falls in that camp. The big 2 built their first nationwide LTE networks on 700 MHz frequencies and now face limits in how much more low-band licenses they can buy.

Dish, though, certainly isn’t spectrum poor. Over the last several years it’s built up quite a collection of airwaves. It converted former satellite spectrum into a 4G licenses. It won big at the most recent PCS auction. It even owns a handful of 700 MHz licenses across the country. Dish has been declaring its ambitions to become a mobile carrier for some time. Yet it’s not built a single commercial network.