What’s up with… Dish and EchoStar, AST SpaceMobile, Starlink

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

Jan 3, 2024

  • Dish and EchoStar are reunited
  • AST SpaceMobile is on the verge of new funding
  • Starlink’s first direct-to-cellular satellites have been launched

In today’s industry news roundup: Dish Network and EchoStar complete their planned wireless communications-focused merger; satellite-to-smartphone hopeful AST SpaceMobile is set to unveil funding from a strategic investor; one of its main rivals, Starlink, has its first direct-to-cellular satellites in orbit; and much more!

Dish Network and EchoStar have completed their merger, which was first announced in August last year, to create “a global leader in terrestrial and non-terrestrial wireless connectivity.” The merger brings together Dish Network’s satellite technology, streaming services and 5G network, which now reaches 70% of the US population, with EchoStar’s satellite communications solutions (best known as Hughes Network Systems): Hamid Akhavan was announced as the CEO of the combined operations in November last year. The move brings the companies back together more than five years after EchoStar was spun out of Dish. “The completion of this merger marks an important milestone for our company and our customers, launching a new era of connectivity,” noted EchoStar executive chairman Charlie Ergen. “We have brought together two trailblazing companies with complementary portfolios to create a global connectivity leader with premier wireless, satellite, and video distribution capabilities. Together, EchoStar and Dish offer an enhanced consumer connectivity business and an unmatched enterprise managed services business. In a world that is increasingly wireless, we are well-positioned to drive revenue and profitable growth,” he stated. For the first nine months of 2023, Dish Network – which has 8.8 million pay-TV customers and 7.5 million mobile customers (mostly Boost Mobile MVNO customers) – reported revenues of $11.6bn, while EchoStar reported revenues of $1.3bn for the same period. The move, which will result in significant cost savings as the two companies combine their operations, is regarded as a way for Dish to shift away from its shrinking pay-TV services business and focus more on wireless services, underpinned by its Open RAN-based 5G network, which is still being built out. The move also buys the company more time to build up its mobile customer base and more aggressively challenge its major rivals – AT&T, T-Mobile US and Verizon.   

AST SpaceMobile, one of the leading players in the emerging satellite-to-smartphone communications sector, tried to calm investor nerves late Tuesday by announcing it is on course to secure a “strategic investment” this month and that it has received “initial ground infrastructure orders from two customers for planned commercial service.” The announcement followed a near 20% crash in the company’s share price to $4.85 during Tuesday trading. The news gave the company’s stock a boost in after-hours trading, but only by 5% to $5.10. Another of the satellite-to-smartphone hopefuls, Lynk Global, recently announced plans to become a publicly listed company by merging with Slam Corp, a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that is already listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

Another of the “direct-to-cellular” players, Starlink, is also in the news… Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the satellite launch company of which Starlink is a division, announced early Wednesday morning that it had launched 21 Starlink satellites, six of which are capable of direct-to-cell communications, on its latest Falcon 9 mission. Starlink has already struck satellite-to-smartphone service partnerships with T-Mobile US, Optus in Australia, Rogers in Canada, KDDI in Japan, One in New Zealand, Salt in Switzerland and Entel in Chile. SpaceX noted in a filing with US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) late last year that its initial tests of the direct-to-cellular services would be with 4G smartphones registered with T-Mobile US and that it planned to launch 840 Starlink satellites with direct-to-cellular capabilities during the coming six months. 

Netherlands-based microchip machine vendor ASML announced that the Dutch government had partially revoked a licence to ship equipment to China. The affected shipments are related to lithography systems (used to produce computer chips) and only impact “a small number of customers” in China, the company explained in a statement. ASML added that it does not expect the move by the Dutch government, as well as export control restrictions imposed by the US in October 2023, to result in a material impact on its financial outlook for the full year. As a response to the latest move by the Dutch officials, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin has reportedly called for the Netherlands to be impartial, to “respect market principles” and the law, and to take actions to protect the common interests of both countries, while maintaining “the stability of international supply chains”. The export of chip plant machinery to China has become a political hot potato during the past year, especially following Huawei’s announcement last year that it had re-entered the high end smartphone sector with devices based on state-of-the-art chips developed and manufactured in China.

As you’d expect, 2024 is set to feature plenty of news about the development and use of generative AI tools. In the telecom world, the first new development comes from India, where, according to local media reports, the country’s largest telco Reliance Jio is working with the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IITB) to develop and launch Bharat GPT, a large-language model (LLM) designed to meet the unique needs of a country with 1.4 billion residents and multiple languages. According to Mint, Reliance Jio’s chairman, Akash Ambani, said the operator is working with IITB to develop a platform that can be used across multiple industry sectors, including commerce and media, and not just the communications industry. Jio’s plans in the AI realm are likely to be a big part of the operator’s upcoming strategy, Jio 2.0, which is currently under development, according to Ambani. It should come as no surprise that Reliance Jio is aiming to develop and market its own AI platform, as it has very clear aspirations to be at the forefront of India’s digital revolution and become a global technology player, as well as improve its own operational efficiency and develop new business opportunities, as many others in the telecom sector are already doing – see The most popular AI stories of 2023.

Outgoing BT CEO Philip Jansen has been reportedly approached about becoming the new chairman of British advertising giant WPP. According to Sky News, Jansen is among a number of potential candidates to have been identified for the job, although WPP’s search is not yet at an advanced stage. In July 2023, BT announced that Jansen was to step down within 12 months, and shortly after revealed that his successor Allison Kirkby, the current chief executive at Telia, will take over as BT’s new CEO by the end of January 2024. Jansen is expected to remain available to support the handover until the end of March, reported Reuters. According to the latest report from Sky News, WPP indicated last year that it had begun the process to find a replacement for Roberto Quarta, who has served as the company’s chairman since 2015. It is further reported that the advertising company was looking to pick its new chairperson from outside the ranks of its existing board members. But if Jansen is WPP’s preferred candidate, they might need to wait a while for him to recharge his batteries: In an exclusive fireside chat held at TelecomTV’s Great Telco Debate in December, Jansen said he plans to take between six and nine months off once he clears his desk at BT because he hasn’t had a proper break from work during the past 35 years. You can watch the full interview here.

Samsung is to unveil AI-enabled Galaxy X Series smartphones during its Unpacked event being held in San Jose, California, the vendor has announced.

Polish BSS (business support system) vendor Comarch has landed a five-year, €27.4m deal with Dutch national telco KPN to provide software-as-a-service (SaaS) customer care and billing capabilities. Read more

Customers in the UK consumed more broadband network capacity than ever before in 2023, according to the latest data from Openreach, the quasi-autonomous wholesale fixed access division of UK national operator BT. The company estimated that the volume of broadband traffic across the UK increased by 9% year over year in 2023, hitting 94,772 petabytes (PB) of data. A “real surge” in use was noted towards the end of the year, with December being the most capacity-hungry month of the year. Openreach suggested that peaks tend to be focused on specific online events, such as Premier League coverage, and the release of downloads for popular gaming titles. Now, the company expects further jumps in data use as full-fibre broadband network deployments advance across the UK. Find out more.

UK fibre access broadband network Freedom Fibre has acquired the assets of fellow altnet VX UK (part of the broader Infrabridge-backed VX Fiber group) for an undisclosed sum. The takeover is expected to be approved and completed during the first quarter of this year. The combined business will have a footprint of about 285,000 premises, operate as Freedom Fibre Ltd and be run by Neil McArthur, the CEO and founder of Freedom Fibre. VX UK, which has access networks in Stoke, Bristol and Colchester, paused its network rollout in June 2022, at which point it began exploring alternative business options, including a sale or merger. Freedom Fibre runs wholesale fibre access networks in the northwest of the UK, has an ongoing wholesale deal with retail ISP TalkTalk and won a £24m BDUK (Building Digital UK) network rollout tender from the UK government last year. In May 2022 Freedom Fibre announced £100m in funding, the majority from infrastructure investor Equitix, and looks (at least currently) to be one of the companies that will be strong enough to remain operational in the UK’s overcrowded FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) network sector, at least in the medium term. A couple of years ago there were more than 100 FTTP altnets in the UK and consolidation was inevitable. The VX UK deal will be far from the last in the sector and comes not long after nexfibre – the fibre broadband network company co-owned by InfraVia Capital Partners (with a 50% stake), Telefónica (25%) and Liberty Global (25%) – announced the acquisition of Upp.

AT&T, T-Mobile US and Verizon are being sued for patent infringement by Pegasus Wireless Innovation, which claims the giant US operators have used technology based on its intellectual property in their 5G networks without obtaining the required licences related to 11 wireless communications patents, reports Bloomberg Law. Pegasus Wireless Innovation acquired the rights to the patents from South Korean telco KT Corp.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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