Ergen: Cable Could Be ‘Serious’ Wireless Competitor

But Satellite Chief Says Won’t Affect Dish

Dish Network chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen said cable’s recent moves in wireless could position the industry to be a serious competitor, but added it likely wouldn’t have an impact on his company.

Cable operators began testing  the wireless waters again last month when Comcast started talks with Verizon about the MVNO provision as part of its 2011 sale of wireless spectrum via the cable consortium SpectrumCo. Verizon said in October that operators had approached it to invoke the MVNO agreement. Later in the month Comcast said it would take at least six months after activating the agreement before a product could be released. Comcast wouldn’t give any hints to what they product could be, although several pundits have said it will likely be a WiFi-first wireless offering.

“I think the cable industry is potentially poised to be a serious competitor in the wireless industry,” said Ergen, speaking on a conference call with analysts and reporters to discuss third quarter results. “They certainly have the ability to to put their toe in the water.”

Ergen noted that cable has stumbled in the past with wireless offerings and would have to weigh whether it was worth it to jump back in.

“They [cable] have a lot of options,” Ergen said. “To the extent that they got into the industry it would certainly put pressure on the incumbents.”   

But any cable product, he said, wouldn’t have an impact on dish, which has its own wireless spectrum.  

“I think we’re positioned pretty well,” Ergen said.

Ergen also commented on Dish’s upcoming carriage negotiations with Viacom, adding that the two have a long-standing relationship and that it would  take “a lot” for the company not to reach an agreement.

The Viacom deal doesn’t expire until March, but some analysts have wondered if Dish is contemplating dropping the channels, like Cable One and Suddenlink Communications have done in the past. Many analysts believe if Dish were to drop Viacom, the loss of its 13 million customers would be a massive blow to the company.

Ergen seemed to be optimistic that a deal could be done, but he warned that Viacom needs to keep the changing times in mind.

“They have to be realistic,” Ergen said. “Their ratings have deteriorated over the last three or four years, in some cases in a material way, and the world has changed somewhat. …We know there are alternatives for their products today that weren’t there three or four years ago.”

The Dish chief said the company has not changed in its opposition to the Charter-Time Warner Cable merger, adding that a combined Charter-TWC and Comcast would control 90% of the broadband customers in the country.

“It will have repercussions throughout the industry either way,” Ergen said.