DISH Network today announced that it has signed agreements with four fiber vendors to provide fronthaul and backhaul support to connect its 5G network to sites covering ~60 million people in the United States. Specifically, these fiber providers are Zayo, Uniti, Segra, and Everstream.

With these agreements, DISH gains access to fiber across the United States. This fiber provides DISH with the coverage, speed and bandwidth needed to connect its forthcoming markets to the nation’s first cloud-native, Open RAN-based 5G network.

The fiber agreements with Zayo, Uniti, Segra, and Everstream are critical to helping DISH build-out its 5G network more quickly and cost-effectively than 5G deployments from competitors AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

DISH Network’s Fiber Build-Out

DISH now has agreements with many of the largest fiber providers in the United States. Indeed, this also includes the prior towers and fiber agreement which DISH signed with Crown Castle in mid-November. Overall, DISH now has access to fiber across the United States from providers with the following portfolios:

  • Zayo: 133k fiber route miles and 13.2 million fiber strand miles
  • Uniti: 124k fiber route miles and 6.7 million fiber strand miles
  • Crown Castle: 80k fiber route miles
  • Segra: 30k fiber route miles and 1.0 million fiber strand miles
  • Everstream: 15k fiber route miles

Separately, in early November 2020, two of these fiber companies, Uniti and Everstream agreed a strategic $206m fiber deal.

DISH Network’s 5G Approach

Overall, DISH intends to build a “real”, greenfield 5G wireless network, assembling all of its digital infrastructure needs from third parties. Specifically, DISH’s strategy involves building the first open, standalone, and virtualized 5G network in the United States.

This fiber announcement by DISH is the second digital infrastructure partnership that DISH has agreed to during the month of November. Indeed, in mid-November, DISH agreed to lease 20k towers from Crown Castle on a 15-year lease agreement.

Furthermore, DISH has recently been making several wireless vendor announcements, as it relates to its 5G network build-out. Specifically, DISH has announced partnerships with Fujitsu for 5G radio units, Mavenir and Altiostar for virtualized RAN software, VMware for its cloud-native 5G network, and Nokia for its 5G standalone core network.

Fiber Need for 5G

Fiber is the backbone for 5G services. Furthermore, fiber is necessary because it allows data to travel at the speed of light. Higher data transmission speeds over fiber will enable the low-latency communications that 5G has to offer.

5G requires more fiber-to-the-tower and fiber to indoor facilities to be built. Specifically, fiber connections ensure that there is sufficient capacity for data to be transported from the tower back to the local telecommunications operator or local point-of-presence (PoP). Without fiber connected to the tower, full 5G services cannot be achieved.

Historically, there has been very distinct pockets of towers and fiber activity. However, as carriers continue to deploy 5G, they are moving their network architectures towards C-RAN (known as cloud-RAN or centralized-RAN). DISH is a leader in C-RAN architecture. This architecture uses fiber to connect base station equipment to remote radio heads and antennas on towers. Therefore, 5G will bring a convergence of both tower and fiber infrastructure in the network. Indeed, C-RAN will allow carriers like DISH to run their networks more efficiently than what they have historically done.

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