If there’s one company that seems poised to take advantage of the mobile workforce revolution, it would appear to be Sprint. The $27-billion organization, which traces its roots back to the founding of Brown Telephone Company in 1899, has always embraced innovation—sometimes unsuccessfully, as with its aborted merger with WorldCom. Today Sprint is the nation’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, and the company recently announced a plan to restructure to serve two markets: consumer and business segments. So what can enterprise users expect from the revamped Sprint?
Mobile Enterprise: How is Sprint rolling out the next generation of wireless services? Verizon has deployed EV-DO in San Diego and D.C. What is Sprint's plan?
Terry T. Yu: Enterprises have not adopted wireless data in the past few years as rapidly as wireless operators and industry pundits predicted. Certainly the economic and telecom downturn caused many companies to be more cautious and selective in implementing new technologies. Also, most wireless data networks were newly deployed and operators largely focused first on the consumer market and consumer services such as ringtones, music and pictures.
There is some debate on whether raw speed is the key to igniting enterprise use of wireless data. I’m very familiar with the various next-generation wireless technologies that promise to deliver higher speeds. We are prepared to invest in these networks when we see adequate demand. At this time, however, I don’t believe that higher data rates in limited geographic areas are the key drivers for widespread adoption of enterprise wireless data.
Our customers are asking us to simplify the task of making their existing business applications easily and securely accessible from wireless networks and devices—and we are.
ME: What’s going to drive the adoption of high-speed wireless in the enterprise? The speed itself? Packaged apps like e-mail? Custom apps?
TY: I believe 2004 is the year we will see an inflection point in enterprise adoption of wireless data. My optimism is based on three reasons: First, other operators have followed us in deploying the current generation of wireless data networks. Enterprises can compare and choose between Sprint and others to meet their wireless data needs. Healthy competition among the large wireless operators will raise the overall awareness of wireless data, create more applications at a faster pace and maintain pricing pressure.
Second, we now have a broader range of data devices to meet the varying needs of enterprises. Companies interested in connecting laptops and PDAs remotely can choose from a line of wireless connection cards. Business users looking for an all-in-one PDA/phone have a wider selection of new and improved devices for Palm and Pocket PC. For example, Sprint’s Treo 600 received strong reviews and reception from both the trade press and our customers.
The third and perhaps most enduring sign that wireless data has arrived is the focus, investment and cooperation I am seeing between network operators, software/application developers, systems integrators and value-added resellers. We understand that most businesses do not see wireless data as an island of applications that is somehow separate from their mission-critical desktop applications. Certain applications such as wireless access to e-mail, calendar and contacts are relatively straightforward and can be delivered shrink-wrapped by Sprint and other wireless operators.
However, most enterprise solutions are more complex and often require expertise in analyzing the business problem, developing a financially justifiable solution and implementing and maintaining the solution. Many customers are telling us that they want to use wireless data to increase the productivity of their existing desktop applications and to extend the reach of these existing applications beyond the boundaries of the wireline networks. To meet this need, we’ve established programs to partner with the leading systems integrators, VARs and software companies.
ME: Unlimited data plans are still running around $80 per month. How do you expect pricing structures to change in 2004?
TY: 2003 was a year of pricing experimentation. Wireless data networks and applications were still relatively new to most business users and it was difficult for them and network operators alike to estimate the
Is $80 per month for unlimited usage the optimal rate plan? Is that too high? Too low? That depends on the perceived business value of wireless data to the user. Users that primarily need wireless access to their corporate e-mail and calendar do not need to spend $80 per month. They can add an unlimited data option to their Sprint data-ready phone or PDA for $15 a month.
I expect wireless network operators will continue to test different pricing structures and rate plans in 2004. We will be competitive. But we will also be talking to customers about data pricing options that combine wireless and wireline data.
ME: Sprint recently announced a restructuring to transition from a company grouped by assets and products to one based on consumer and business segments. How will this affect the way wireless and mobile services are marketed and delivered to the enterprise?
TY: Customers were telling us that they like our products, technologies and sales forces, but they wanted us to behave more as one company. As a result, we have transformed from a company grouped by assets and products—local, long distance, wireless—to one based on business and consumer segments. We no longer have three different sales forces or three isolated product development and technology groups.•