Sprint CEO woos customers with WiMAX plans

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse expands upon his keynote at CTIA to detail how the company will deliver WiMAX and fields a few personal questions at the same time

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse shared the company's WiMAX plans last week at CTIA Wireless. The plan to build a fourth-generation wireless network is a risky one, but Hesse explained to Denise Dubie why it's a smart strategy for Sprint.

Can you describe Sprint's WiMAX strategy?

We think we have the opportunity to own the pole position of now. What our customers have told us is that they want it instant -- when they use their wireless devices, when they surf the Web, whatever is it they are looking for, they want it to download immediately. We have the largest broadband wireless network in America today. We have a very advanced 3G network, which is very fast, but 4G, I think of that as almost on steroids, especially with new applications such as streaming video. So having the true broadband application on your wireless device is why we think bringing 4G, fourth generation, to the market very quickly is important. And WiMAX is the only fourth-generation technology really ready to go now. It's not slideware. It's working right now; it's working in a number of countries around the world, over 100. We had a soft launch that brought the product out in three cities and we plan to launch it nationally.

You mentioned WiMAX is in over 100 other countries worldwide. Why has WiMAX been so late to arrive in the US?

First, in all things wireless, America usually is a laggard, and typically in terms of wireless development. I don't think it is a secret. I've spent a lot of my life outside of the US. I actually recently left the board of directors of Nokia, which of course I had to resign from when I took the Sprint job because of potential conflicts. And fast adoption of the newest wireless technologies generally takes place in Europe and Asia more than it does in North America. And I think it's partly because the landline network is stronger and is more robust in America than in other parts of the world.

What is the advantage of WiMAX over other cellular technologies that may be more predominant in the US right now?

It's just faster, faster speeds. It's the next generation. When we talk wireless and we talk generations, they might recognize some of these acronyms or descriptions. First generation was analog. Second generation, you will hear words like GSM or CDMA. Third generation most wireless carriers are just beginning to deploy today. We use something called EV-DO, that's third generation. Fourth generation, really the only standard that is deployed today is WiMAX. WiMAX is really very much at the leading edge. It's almost unfair to say it's not deployed widely; we intend to be the first. It is part of our leadership position that we want to launch WiMAX first, and we think it will give us a two-to-three year head start on other wireless carriers who will deploy 4G or fourth generation probably in two to three years.

Why are you so far ahead?

It's really just a decision that we're making to be first. There are advantages and disadvantages from a risk perspective to being, if you will, the leader. And we are quite frankly taking a bit of a risk -- the old saying, 'Build it and they will come.' Some people believe that the applications aren't there yet to justify those really broadband data speeds, that today's wireless networks are fast enough. We don't believe that.

Why do you think the risk is worth it?

We think the applications are there. Imagine being able to download movies real time to the kids in the back seat of your car as you go down the street. With the camcorder, being able to simultaneously, as I am taking a movie, have that transmitted real time to my television back home. Or a picture uploaded to a social Web site at very high speed, a 5-megapixel or an 8-megapixel picture. Those kinds of applications, I think, are right around the corner and people will use them, and applications developers will develop those applications if the capability is there.

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