Wireless Cell Tower

Dish and T-Mobile have submitted opposing comments to the FCC about T-Mobile’s plan to shut down its CDMA network by January 2022. It’s an important issue for Dish, whose Boost prepaid offering relies on a resale agreement with T-Mobile.

Dish acquired the Boost business, which previously belonged to Sprint, as a condition of regulatory approval of the T-Mobile Sprint merger, which closed last year. In connection with that sale, T-Mobile also agreed to the resale agreement with Dish for several years to give Dish time to build the 5G network that it has committed to building.

T-Mobile’s plan to shut down CDMA in January is of particular concern to Dish because, according to the company’s filing with the FCC, the majority of its 9 million Boost subscribers have devices that rely on Sprint’s CDMA network. Dish also notes that many Boost subscribers face economic challenges and cites “significant device/chip shortages that make it even more difficult to acquire compatible replacement devices prior to the shutdown.”

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As one financial analyst specializing in telecom has noted, Dish could lose a substantial number of Boost customers, as customers may balk at the requirement to obtain new phones.

Arguing that “a forced migration of this scale under this accelerated time frame is simply not possible,” Dish says potentially millions of Boost subscribers could be without cell service beginning in January.

T-Mobile’s Response

In its response to Dish’s filing, T-Mobile cites an agreement between Dish and T-Mobile that requires T-Mobile to give Dish just a six-month advance notice of plans to sunset the CDMA network. T-Mobile notes, however, that it gave Dish a 14-month advance notice.

T-Mobile also notes that later-generation technology offers faster speeds and better 9-1-1 location accuracy than CDMA and argues that the migration to the new technology should not be delayed.

According to T-Mobile, Dish’s Boost predicament is simply the result of poor planning on Dish’s part.
“Dish appears to have taken minimal steps to begin migrating its customers” to later-generation devices, T-Mobile wrote in its filing with the FCC.

The filing goes on to note that “Dish actually has been adding a substantial number of new customers onto the CDMA network each month and has extended the end date for new legacy Sprint network activations from January 1, 2021 to June 1, 2021, despite the fact that ceasing new CDMA activations would be a very simple step to take to move toward a timely migration.”

T-Mobile also argues that Dish has likely been aware of the supply situation for several months and “has apparently failed to undertake the necessary actions to hedge supply shortages of its preferred devices.” T-Mobile says it has offered to help Dish obtain devices.

T-Mobile has former Sprint customers of its own – “a much larger number” than Dish has – and those customers are being migrated “on exactly the same timeline as Dish’s Boost-branded customer base,” the T-Mobile filing says.

It’s worth noting that Verizon revealed recently that only 1% of its customers remain on CDMA. Dish argues, however, that it took Verizon “multiple” years to achieve this.

Dish’s T-Mobile CDMA comments were tacked onto the end of a filing about power levels for the CBRS band, an unrelated topic. Dish and T-Mobile have differing views on that issue as well, and Dish attempts to segue from CBRS to CDMA in its filing by arguing that T-Mobile’s stance on both issues is anti-competitive.

In an email statement sent to Telecompetitor, Stephen Stokols, Boost executive vice president, said, “No matter how T-Mobile tries to spin it, the simple fact remains: a shutdown of the Sprint CDMA network on January 1, 2022 is an attack on low-income consumers. T-Mobile’s accelerated shutdown of the CDMA network is motivated by greed, runs counter to the promises the company made to the government, and can only be explained as an anti-competitive action designed to undermine DISH as the nation’s fourth wireless carrier, harming consumers in the process.  In contrast, Verizon has taken the pro-consumer step of keeping its CDMA network operational until January 2023, one year longer than planned.”

Updated to include statement from Boost Executive Vice President Stephen Stokols

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