June 27, 2006 11:10 AM PDT

Sprint CEO looks toward 4G wireless

NEW YORK--The ink is barely dry on the check written to build Sprint Nextel's third-generation mobile network, and the company is already talking about its fourth-generation network.

During a keynote speech at Yankee Group Research's Wireless Leadership Summit here on Tuesday, Sprint Nextel CEO Gary Forsee said the company, which officially closed the books on its $6.5 billion merger with Nextel on Monday, is already looking toward the next generation of wireless technology to deliver new services to customers.

Forsee didn't specify which technology will be used or even which services the company will offer over a fourth-generation, or 4G, network. But he emphasized that 4G is on its way and that it will have an enormous impact on Sprint Nextel's business model.

Gary Forsee

"4G will give us a 10-fold cost-performance advantage," he said. "When you get 10 times the cost improvement, that's a pretty big deal."

Sprint has spent billions of dollars building its 3G network, which is based on a technology called Evolution-Data Optimized, or EV-DO, technology. The company started offering the service only a year ago, and has spent the latter half of 2005 and the first half of 2006 expanding the network.

With average download speeds of 400Kbps (kilobits per second) to 700Kbps, the network offers enough bandwidth to enable customers to surf and download data from the Internet anywhere they can get cell phone reception. Right now, the service is used mostly on laptops. But some handsets are also supported, providing consumers with mobile music, games and television.

But EV-DO is just the beginning for Sprint. The company is also planning to use its large holding in the 2.5GHz frequency band to provide new 4G wireless services. Sprint Nextel is still testing several technologies, but a front-runner in the race is WiMax, which supports peak data download speeds of about 20Mbps (megabits per second), with average user data rates between 1Mbps and 4Mbps.

Additional spectrum and the development of new 4G technologies will become important as carriers add more bandwidth-intensive applications such as mobile TV.

All three of the big U.S. cell phone carriers--Cingular Wireless, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless--already offer mobile video today, but only about 1 percent to 2 percent of the cell phone market is using the service. Linda Barabee, senior wireless analyst for Yankee Group, said this is a huge opportunity for carriers.

But mobile operators are nervous about using their 3G networks, which were not built for broadcasting television.

"Voice will continue to be a killer application for the mobile operators for a long time," Barabee said. "So they need to be careful about what they put on that network."

But Sprint isn't the only mobile carrier investing in new network technologies to handle broadcast TV on mobile phones. Verizon Wireless has already agreed to work with Qualcomm, which is developing a network especially for mobile TV using a technology it calls MediaFlo.

Forsee said he sees his company's spectrum assets as a competitive advantage.

"4G is one of reasons we got together with Nextel," he said. "We have spectrum holdings in 83 top markets. It's not that others won't be able to get there too, but we have spectrum today."

Analysts agree Sprint Nextel is in a good position, but they say the company still needs to execute on a business model.

"When you have spectrum assets in your back pocket, that's a differentiator that gives a carrier options, especially when it comes to mobile TV," Barabee said. "But what is also needed is a business model that allows them to leverage those assets to deliver commercial services."

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7 comments

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Cell companies
I think all cell phone companies should put all the resources into getting their basic products to work first. I could care less about surfing the net or watching videos on my phone. I just want a cell company that has service without tons of dropped calls or the meriad of fast busies.

WAKE UP and fix your existing service before you put money into the next-next gereration stuff!!!
Posted by itworker--2008 (130 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sprint - Poor Customer Satisfaction Ratings
Sprint's customer satisfaction ratings are below that of both Verison and T-Mobile.

Rather than working on exotic features that very, very, few people use, they need to improve their basic cell phone service.
Posted by john55440 (1020 comments )
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Cingular suffered the same merger effect
When two companies merge, one of the effects is a drop in customer satisfaction. The two merging intities deal with many changes that take focus off the bottomline. This will end soon for Sprint-Nextel. The other wireless carriers need to be very concerned; Sprint is the carrier operating two distinct network technologies( iDEN & CDMA) and they own some of the most valuable frequency licences in the industry.
Posted by DETACON (1 comment )
Link Flag
Sounds Great...What you need now is COOL Phones.
While Verizon offers phones like the Treo700W and Motorola Q that can make use of broadband speeds Sprint falls short in their offering of windows mobile devices.

For whatever reason Sprint is either one of the last or altogether refuses to offer the hottest phones on the market. Instead of offering the Treo 700W the sell the outdated PPC-6700; instead of offering the hip and cool Motoroal Razr they offer the uninspired, mee too copy from Samsung (there's nothing cool about that).

Get with the program fellas, these are the phones people want!
Posted by alqaqish (127 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sounds Great...What you need now are COOL Phones.
While Verizon offers phones like the Treo700W and Motorola Q that can make use of broadband speeds Sprint falls short in their offering of windows mobile devices.

For whatever reason Sprint is either one of the last or altogether refuses to offer the hottest phones on the market. Instead of offering the Treo 700W the sell the outdated PPC-6700; instead of offering the hip and cool Motoroal Razr they offer the uninspired, mee too copy from Samsung (there's nothing cool about that).

Get with the program fellas, these are the phones people want!
Posted by alqaqish (127 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Customer service and billing problems
It is to bad that the customer service and billing problems which have been around for as long as I can remember don't follow the advancements in there network. I love their features but had to leave them because of the billing problems and the big hassle dealing with the customer service.
Posted by mwgw (1 comment )
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Video over 3G or 4G vs. getting your calls
Video over 3G/4G might be great the day I don't have to worry about running flat on the battery and losing vital calls after watching one single movie...

Until that day, video streaming to your compact mobile is nothing more than a gimmick feature that is cool to show to your friends and great for the dreamers in the telco industry when they try to justify more investments in 3G/4G.
Posted by peter.mortensen (119 comments )
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