Google and Dish Network exploring new mobile network to compete with Sprint/T-Mobile

With the prospect of a combined Sprint and T-Mobile, Google may be seeking to ally with Dish Network, as the satellite TV operator has a treasure trove of patents.

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Google and Dish Network could create a "fourth pillar" cellular network to occupy the vacuum that a merger of Sprint and T-Mobile US would create—in the event that merger clears regulatory hurdles and legal challenges—according to a report in the New York Post late Sunday.

Alan Mulally, a director at Google's parent company Alphabet, has been in discussions with satellite TV operator Dish Network to create a new cellular network, sources told the Post. Google entered the MVNO business in 2015 with the debut of Project Fi, which switches between Sprint and T-Mobile towers when used on phones that support both networks. Dish Network attempted to outbid SoftBank in 2013, when the Japanese telecom company purchased Sprint.

Google denied that the company is in communication with Dish Network, though declined to comment on Mulally's actions specifically, according to the report. A source told the Post that talks are "about halfway there."

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Dish Network's treasure trove of wireless patents, combined with T-Mobile's potential divestiture of some assets as a precondition for regulatory approval for their merger with Sprint, could free Google from its reliance on T-Mobile and Sprint for wireless infrastructure. 

While a wireline ISP and mobile network are both telecoms, the two are markedly different beasts—Google's attempt at becoming a wireline ISP has been marked with troubles, as Google Fiber rolled out in 2010, has been launched only in a few select markets, with no new deployments and years, and an abrupt exit from Louisville following problems with deployments in that market.

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Deutsche Telekom—owner of T-Mobile US—has been soliciting a buyer for its mobile network essentially throughout the entirety of this decade, making the 2018-2019 attempt an interesting reversal, with T-Mobile technically acquiring Sprint. While the 2017 series of negotiations for a T-Mobile/Sprint merger were similar, those were apparently abandoned due to concerns from SoftBank about ceding control of Sprint. 

Merger negotiations between the two in 2013-2014 would have seen SoftBank acquire T-Mobile US, though were abandoned under the expectation that it would not clear regulatory hurdles. T-Mobile was also an acquisition target of Iliad SA—the operator of French telecom Free Mobile—in 2014, and by AT&T in 2011. Per the terms of the acquisition agreement, Deutsche Telekom received $3 billion in cash, and access to $1 billion of AT&T's wireless spectrum.

For more, check out "How will mmWave technology limit deployments of 5G to rural and suburban communities?" and "Tracking 5G: Ookla's coverage map tracks worldwide network rollout" on TechRepublic.

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Arne Beruldsen, Shutterstock / Arne Beruldsen