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Cable Technology Feature Article

July 16, 2013

DISH Mulls Next Merger Attempt

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Now that AT&T has agreed to buy Leap Wireless (News - Alert) for $1.19 billion, a question has been raised as to the next move for DISH Network, who seems to have been locked out of the M&A game at every turn thus far.

DISH of course has been on a mission to find a partner with sufficient spectrum holdings to shore up the launch of a nationwide, mobile TV-focused 4G service, to be called Racecar (the company has already trademarked the name). Last fall, DISH received FCC (News - Alert) approval to use its 40MHz of Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum to create a 4G mobile broadband network, and it hopes to supercharge its TV Everywhere proposition with the ability to provide a managed quality of service both inside and outside of the home. But handling all of that video and doing it nationwide will take more spectrum than what DISH has, meaning it needs a partner.

But after a brutal bidding war, it was beaten out by Sprint in a quest to acquire Clearwire (News - Alert), and it was also beaten out in a play for Sprint itself by Japanese powerhouse SoftBank.

Plan C? DISH was rumored to have been in talks to merge with AT&T. An AT&T-DISH tie-up would have 151 MHz of spectrum, compared to Sprint-Clearwire’s holdings at 185 MHz.

Macquarie analyst Amy Yong said that the deal would make sense. “If Sprint-Clearwire combine without spectrum conditions, this could encourage AT&T to pursue DISH,” Yong wrote in a research note. “The regulatory stage is now set for a potential merger with AT&T.”

And while the idea of the No. 2 satellite TV provider and the No. 2 IPTV (News - Alert) provider in the country may seem a regulatory and competitive nightmare, “DISH’s inability to enter into the wireless space through Sprint-Clearwire could lead to more regulatory easing for M&A,” she said, noting that AT&T, the nation’s No. 2 wireless carrier, could pay about $60 a share for DISH.

“DISH is still one of the best positioned names to participate in the ongoing pay TV/telecom M&A frenzy,” Yong wrote.

Post-Leap, Wells Fargo (News - Alert) said that it still believes that AT&T could still make a play for DISH in light of the company’s spectrum holdings.

Another Macquarie Securities analyst, Kevin Smithen, isn’t so sure. He said that the AT&T-Leap tie up will boost prepaid competition for former AT&T suitor T-Mobile, leading the company to consider making a deal with DISH to diversify its portfolio.  T-Mobile doesn’t have true 4G spectrum though, so it’s unclear as to whether such a play would be attractive to the satco.

Edited by Blaise McNamee

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