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Dish ditches T-Mobile, signs wireless pact with AT&T

(Image: Dish Network Corporation/Graphic: The Desk)

Dish Network is ditching its relationship with wireless carrier T-Mobile in favor of a new business pact with rival AT&T.

The move, announced earlier this week, will allow Dish Network to re-sell access to AT&T’s 4G LTE and 5G wireless networks to consumers and business customers while providing network support for customers of its Boost Mobile, Ting Mobile and forthcoming Dish Mobile services.

“Teaming with AT&T on this long-term partnership will allow us to better compete in the retail wireless market and quickly respond to changes in our customers’ evolving connectivity needs as we build our own first-of-its kind 5G network,” John Swieringa, an executive in charge of wireless operations at Dish Network, said in a press release. “The agreement provides enhanced coverage and service for our Boost, Ting and Republic customers, giving them access to the best connectivity on the market today via voice, messaging, data and nationwide roaming on AT&T’s vast network, as well as Dish’s 5G network.”

For more than a few months, Dish Network has publicly lashed out at wireless competitor T-Mobile for purportedly refusing to honor the covenants of an acquisition agreement concerning its purchase of prepaid brand Boost Mobile.

Boost Mobile was divested by T-Mobile when the wireless company agreed to acquire Boost’s parent company, Sprint Corporation, in 2018. The deal was finalized last year after Dish Network completed its acquisition of Boost Mobile with a promise to relaunch the service as a fourth wireless competitor focused on 5G connectivity.

Dish Network, which owns a cache of wireless spectrum it has acquired over the last two decades, is still evolving its 5G wireless offering and isn’t expected to formally launch a consumer service for at least a while longer. Knowing this, T-Mobile agreed to provide some support to Dish Network in the form of a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) agreement, where Dish Network would continue to lease access to T-Mobile’s network, mostly to support Boost Mobile customers with older devices.

Problems began last year when T-Mobile announced it would shut down Sprint’s older-generation CDMA network — which was also used by Boost Mobile customers — in favor of migrating Sprint customers to T-Mobile’s more-resilient 4G LTE and 5G networks.

Dish Network publicly complained that the move would penalize Boost Mobile customers who still relied on T-Mobile’s network for connectivity, and had the potential to convince those customers to switch away to a competing service. T-Mobile has defended its actions, saying it has upheld its end of the bargain throughout the merger process and in the months since, as outlined in its purchase agreement with Dish Network concerning Boost Mobile.

This month, Dish Network apparently had enough of the spat, announcing its MVNO pact with AT&T that will eventually lead to the company moving away from T-Mobile’s network and services. Analysts say T-Mobile stands to lose between $500 million and $2.5 billion a year as a result of Dish Network moving its MVNO customers off its network.

Existing customers with older CDMA phones will still lose out — T-Mobile is moving forward with its shutoff of Sprint’s older network, and the technology has never been supported by AT&T, which employed a GSM network. But it is expected that Dish Network and AT&T will offer current prepaid customers some sort of discount (which could be as much as “free”) on a new device in order to take advantage of the new service agreement.

Going forward, new activations on any of Dish Network’s-owned prepaid brands will utilize the AT&T network.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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