Sprint's Esrey Discusses Wireless 3G Services

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Sprint Chairman William Esrey said the enterprise will play a crucial role in the success of its next-generation wireless services.

Esrey spoke with reporters about the new services--dubbed 3G because they represent the third generation of wireless technology--after his keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show here. The services are expected to be available nationwide this summer and will be rolled out through Sprint's PCS division, Kansas City, Mo.

Wireless mobile users present a particular headache for enterprise CIOs because there are a number of employees using mobile devices that access data from behind the firewall, he said. In addition to being a security concern, he explained, these companies need to think about how they are going to support the myriad of devices and solutions available in the market.

As 3G services roll out, Esrey said Sprint will seek to design solutions that will allow the CIO some control over which devices are used within the enterprise and how they are used.

"Clearly, the business revenue is going to be significant," he said.

Sprint E-Solutions, Sprint's hosting and data services division, also will seek to provide integrated solutions. Esrey said E-Solutions will be hosting Web sites, such as a company's intranet site, where users can get access to data from wireline as well as wireless terminals.

Sprint PCS last year unveiled a channel program for solution providers to help develop corporate wireless data solutions. In addition to wireless Internet-ready phones, Sprint will be offering a 3G-capable wireless modem from Sierra Wireless, once it launches the new services.

Esrey said Sprint isn't offering any specific sales projections from business or consumer users. But he did say both segments are expected to play into early growth.

Mobile integrators believe most companies won't adopt any significant wireless strategies until early 2003. First, networks need to be launched--AT&T Wireless, for example, doesn't expect its next-generation platform to be available nationwide until the end of 2002--then the services need to be evaluated.

"It'll take awhile to convince the enterprise that this stuff is ready for prime time," said Sven Ingard, vice president of operations at ArcStream, a mobile integrator in Watertown, Mass. "There will be some sales cycle involved."

Sprint demonstrated its 3G network capabilities for the first time at the show. Executives said peak data rates for the first generation of the technology, based on Qualcomm's CDMA2000, to offer peak data rates of 144 kbps and average speeds of about half that. Sprint's current PCS digital network provides data transfers of about 14.4 kbps. Esrey said he expects to be able to double the 3G transfer rates via a software upgrade, expected at the end of 2002.

Esrey said Sprint is still researching pricing for the services, which will be billed per megabit for data transfers.

Next-generation wireless services provide a significant boost in capabilities for wireless users. In addition to faster, packet-based data transfers, Sprint's service will provide always-on connections, so that users can use instant messaging and receive push e-mail. The technology also increases the amount of voice calls Sprint can service over its network; provide "push-to-talk" capabilities, essentially walkie-talkie-style communications among users of Sprint's network; and support global positioning services.

But while much of the wireless capabilities will be improved with next-generation services, Esrey said Sprint PCS will still be struggling with network coverage issues.

All national networks have gaps, and buildings and bridges can play havoc with a wireless signal. Not only is it frustrating to lose a call in midsentence, but the success of new mobile sales-force automation and other enterprise-class wireless applications will depend on having a reliable network.

Esrey said as its next-generation network rolls out, Sprint PCS can work on improving reliability, but connections won't match that of today's wireline reliability.

Sprint will spend an estimated $1.5 billion to bring its 3G wireless services to market.

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