DISH Network's Beast Needs 4G Speed


The satellite TV business ain't what it used to be.

Last quarter, DISH Network (NAS: DISH) lost roughly 135,000 net subscribers, compared to a loss of just 19,000 net subscribers a year ago. The company attributed this drop to a decline in gross new subscriber activations.

As the demand for satellite TV dries up, the company has made its wireless ambitions clear. The company is planning on rolling out a satellite and earthbound hybrid 4G LTE network to compete directly with carriers such as Sprint (NYS: S) , AT&T (NYS: T) , and Verizon (NYS: VZ) .

DISH has been shopping in the bargain bin lately. The company bought bankrupt satellite company DBSD for around $1 billion back in February, adding to its wireless spectrum. It followed this acquisition up with a purchase of also bankrupt TerreStar Networks for another $1.4 billion last month, another helpful addition to its spectrum real estate. Don't forget about Blockbuster, which will likely re-emerge as some sort of video-streaming service seeking revenge against Netflix (NAS: NFLX) .

I love the Foolish imagery that colleague Anders Bylund evokes; I picture DISH co-founder Charles Ergen and CEO Joseph Clayton rummaging through yesterday's thrown out and defunct companies, picking up salvageable scraps and stitching it all together to construct its own amalgamation of a satellite TV-broadcasting, video-streaming, fire-breathing, 4G-speedy wireless beast. OK, maybe the fire-breathing is just my own wishful thinking.

The silhouette of that beast is now becoming clearer. Once assembled, it will just need a bolt of lightning to give it life. And by bolt of lightning, I'm referring to Federal Communications Commission approval. The company has filed for a waiver from the FCC to consolidate its spectrum licenses to offer the proposed hybrid satellite and terrestrial service.

Like LightSquared, it will also need to convince regulators that it won't interfere with existing GPS signals. LightSquared, which has been eatingClearwire's (NAS: CLWR) lunch, was granted the same waiver by the FCC for its spectrum combination earlier this year, but it is still working to address the potential conflict with the GPS industry.

Management has been less than forthright with investors about its plans, but its wireless broadband ambitions are starting to emerge. The company has levered itself up over the past year, with total long -term debt and capital lease obligations ballooning from $6.5 billion a year ago to $8.5 billion today. When you're talking about a company with a $9.8 billion market cap, that extra $2 billion in debt adds up quickly.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorEvan Niuowns shares of AT&T, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned.Click hereto see his holdings and a short bio.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Netflix and AT&T.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying puts in Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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Originally published