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Dish co-founder Charlie Ergen said his company is spending up to $1 billion to build a nationwide Internet of Things network in less than two years' time.

Building a national 5G network, meanwhile, is expected to cost more than 10 times that amount, he told the audience at this week's Connectivity Expo in Charlotte, N.C.

Ergen, who stepped down as chief executive of the satellite TV provider last year to focus on its wireless efforts, noted the company faces a deadline 654 days from Wednesday to deploy some of the billions in spectrum assets it acquired in recent years.

He said the initial phase of a two-stage network build would cost an estimated $500 million to $1 billion.

Dish plans to use narrowband technology as it builds its preliminary IoT network, and Ergen said radios are already ordered, cores will be implemented this summer and testing is expected to begin this fall.

"We get to show what we can do," Ergen said.

Ergen noted that narrowband is likely to be part of the global standard established by 3GPP, and he said it propagates "pretty far," allows the company to build a large network without massive spectrum holdings and, crucially, to be able to upgrade to 5G once those standards are established.

In addition to awaiting more standards for 5G, Ergen said Dish’s holdings in the 600 MHz band will not be fully cleared until the summer of 2020. But Dish hopes a potentially $10 billion build-out of a 5G network across the country will be able to power the next generation of technologies that will rely on wireless connections.

"You're going to need a different kind of network than you have today," Ergen said.

Ergen acknowledged that the company has no experience building a nationwide wireless network and lacks the cash flow of the major wireless carriers.

But he said unlike carriers, Dish doesn't have to deal with legacy systems and can start with "a clean sheet of paper."

"This is a startup business for us," Ergen said.

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