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6 December 2022

Dish gets even closer to AWS, exposes APIs to build developer support

Dish Network has many challenges. It has to hit FCC-mandated 5G roll-out targets while taking share from the big US operators in both consumer and enterprise markets; proving out its ambitious wholesale model; starting to mitigate the decline of its core pay-TV business; and finding sufficient funds to do all of the above.

However, at least Dish has not suffered from excessive caution. It has set out a clear vision of how it will build a fully sliceable virtualized RAN and core, which will enable it to provision differentiated virtual networks to support its own retail operations, led by Boost Mobile, and (it hopes) a large number of enterprise and private network wholesale customers too.

It has taken a significant step towards this software-defined operating model by opening up its application programming interfaces (APIs) to the developer community, and has been demonstrating its approach at Amazon AWS’s re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, alongside eight suppliers.

Dish aims to use the demonstration, and its new online hub, to encourage developer participation and start to build a broad ecosystem of applications that will attract consumer and enterprise users. It is fully aware that, if an operator aims to compete on applications rather than just on network KPIs such as coverage, it must work with a broad base of innovative developers.

This has not always been easy for operators, whose platforms do not attract flocks of developers in the way that Apple’s or Google’s do. The tie-up with AWS is important then. Verizon has already demonstrated the benefits of tapping into hyperscalers’ developer bases, in its edge alliance with AWS (which means that AWS coders are heavily motivated to use Verizon APIs if they want to create 5G-enabled apps for use at the edge).

Dish’s relationship with AWS goes even deeper. It is deploying its 5G core, and some RAN functions, on the AWS cloud and there has been persistent speculation that Amazon might be an anchor tenant for the Dish 5G wholesale network, or even go for an investment in, or merger with the satellite TV firm.

In Las Vegas, Dish showed off its deals with eight vendors whose software can be used with its APIs to create new apps. Those vendors Cisco, Confluent, IBM, Macrometa, Oracle, Palantir, Swim and Totogi. The operator also hosted a series of  ‘Level up your Dev’ workshops, targeted at selected developers and technical thought leaders, and provided an early preview of how its APIs can be used.

Dish told the re:Invent audience that it is giving developers access to areas of the 5G network that operators would usually keep tightly under their control, including traffic control, policy and routing, edge compute, and wireless connectivity from any device to any cloud.

According to its online hub, developers will be able to:

  • Provision basic 5G network connections and activate and manage the lifecycle of their devices
  • Test the configuration, performance and cost predictions for their network
  • Stream near-real-time data to understand the status of their devices, services and network

Vlad Sorici, senior sales engineer at one of the Dish partners, Totagi, wrote in a blog post: “When was the last time an MNO let you freely code with its connectivity? That’s right: Never. Dish Wireless CNO Marc Rouanne has a vision to change that by creating an open set of network APIs that lets anyone –  from a single developer or start-up all the way to large enterprises  -  add connectivity to anything, for any reason, with unfettered access.”

Dish claims that the architecture of virtualized, open 5G allows it to provide this level of exposure without risking its own security, or allowing developers to run wild. The operator said in an interview: “The security posture and SBA [service-based architecture] of 5G, network slicing, RIC [RAN Intelligent Controller], O-RAN, virtualization, and continuous deployment. These are not simply legacy telco components with new branding. These are all new critical technical enablers that, taken together, add up to how we achieve the isolation and service exposure functionality required for multi-tenancy. Enabling multi-tenancy so enterprise devs can assemble/program/scale their own network on our network is a primary goal for Dish Wireless.”

Dish also plans to build a software development community to write apps for its network, and it will monetize the network by charging per-API call.

Another link between Dish and AWS will be the latter’s marketplace, which leverages the market engines of its retailer parent. Totogi, for instance, will make its charging software available, on an as-a-service basis, via AWS Marketplace. The software house’s acting CEO, Danielle Royston, said: “Dish’s network APIs work just like an AWS service, where the library of APIs provides the services you need to add connectivity to anything. Because Dish has built these services on AWS, you can combine connectivity with the AWS services you love to create new, powerful software applications.”

Opening up APIs to enable a host of new 5G applications will be a critical way for operators to monetize their new networks without having to develop all their digital services themselves. A key motivation for Ericsson’s acquisition of Vonage was to gain an API platform that it can offer as a service or framework for its operator customers.