Meanwhile, the modified dishes could also serve as small cell towers providing cellular service in the areas around homes, with the longer-range network serving as backhaul, he said. That network of small cells could either use spectrum that Dish acquired by buying a mobile operator or host the spectrum of a partner carrier. AT&T or T-Mobile might pay good money to get access to all those dishes, Farrar said.
"Even without owning a mobile company, Dish could effectively be a tower company," he said. If just 10 percent of its customers agreed to have the service operate from their roofs, Dish could offer a carrier 1.4 million new cell sites for better coverage and capacity. "It's purely an issue of finding the right partner and the right commercial deal to make this happen."
Even if none of these schemes works out, today's red-hot mobile market will probably be a winner for Dish, which bought its desirable 700MHz spectrum five years ago and persuaded the government to let it use former satellite bands for terrestrial mobile.
"If everything fails, they might just sell the spectrum," Recon's Entner said.