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From satellite television to a new 5G cellular network: DISH engineers a massive transformation

Aldo Svaldi, The Denver Post on

Published in Science & Technology News

DISH lit up a new 5G cellular network in more than 120 cities on June 14, meeting an early target federal regulators had set for the construction of the nation’s fourth wireless network.

Whether Project Genesis, as the network is called, succeeds or fails will determine the fate of one of Colorado’s largest public companies, and could weigh heavily on Denver’s future as a center of telecommunications innovation, a legacy that goes back decades to the early days of cable television.

“Through DISH’s efforts, Denver is becoming a wireless hub,” said John Swieringa, president and chief operating officer of DISH Wireless. “Our partners are coming here, too, and investing in people and resources in this market. We expect Denver to become a leader in 5G.”

DISH Wireless has hired more than 1,600 workers in the past 18 months and is looking to add 500 more, Swieringa said. DISH, the parent company, already employs 6,000 people along Colorado's Front Range. A successful launch of the new network could provide a big boost to the region economically for years to come. Failure could cost thousands of jobs.

5G stands for fifth-generation mobile network. The technology can move larger bundles of data at much faster speeds and lower lag times than 4G. That added capacity promises to open up a host of uses such as self-driving cars, smart cities, remote surgery, and enhanced virtual reality. It also allows wireless carriers to better compete in providing home and business broadband service and makes possible multiple new commercial applications.

The big three carriers — AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile — have built their 5G networks on top of existing and proprietary 4G networks, which in turn were built on top of 3G networks. DISH, by contrast, is building a 5G network from scratch, using something called Open Radio Access Networks or OPEN-RAN. That approach is software-focused, cloud-based and flexible in terms of using technologies from outside partners.

 

“One of the biggest advantages is that the cost of upgrading and maintaining the network is far lower. We will more readily adapt to evolving technologies and standards. We are relying heavily on automation. Our network is forward-looking,” Swieringa said.

Genesis cell sites have a much smaller footprint than those of older carriers, and much of the signal processing is pushed out to centralized server centers.

Favoring software over hardware lowers overall costs, provides more flexibility and allows for a more open and automated network. Established technology players such as Amazon Web Services, Dell and VMware, to name a few, are actively involved in Project Genesis, contributing resources and development expertise to ensure its success.

“They (DISH) are leveraging the desire of multiple vendors to participate in the only new national wireless network being built. Their vendors are contributing in the form of development and assets,” said Roy Chua, principal at AvidThink, an independent telecom and technology research firm in San Jose, California.

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