Sprint 'Overhyped' Fast Wireless Connections

Sprint PCS said it uses commercial compression software available to other wireless and landline carriers to achieve the 56K bit/sec. speeds for mobile-computer users it touted earlier this week when it announced a new suite of products and services to support corporate users.

A Sprint PCS executive said that this compression software was optimized to allow laptop-toting road warriors to use wireless connections to surf the Web at wired, dial-up speeds. He added that enterprises wanting to boost the speed of access by mobile workers to Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes or Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange software would have to use a separate compression scheme, housed on a corporate server.

The day after Kansas City-based Sprint PCS unveiled its new "Wireless Web for Business" service, BlueKite.com of San Francisco said it provided the company with the compression software that allows Sprint PCS users to tap into the Internet with the "performance equivalent of 56K ... standard dial-up modems."

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at the Gartner Group Inc., said that in his view, Sprint PCS "omitted" this key piece of information about BlueKite from its initial release on the new enterprise services, saying the company "really went overboard on the hype."

Dulaney said that a Gartner assessment showed the raw data throughput of the Sprint PCS network is about 8.8K bit/sec., or about a quarter under its maximum throughput of 14.4K bit/sec., which would translate into connection speeds of about 40K bit/sec. with the BlueKite compression software.

Jason Gusman, director of large business marketing at Sprint PCS, said that the company's competitors "can use BlueKite if they choose to, but none have done so." He added that Sprint PCS spent a year installing BlueKite in its network, meaning any competitors would have to spend a similar length of time to install similar compression software.

Despite Gartner's analysis, Gusman said large-scale testing of the BlueKite software showed wireless throughput consistently hitting near or even above the maximum dial-up speed of 56K bit/sec., but he cautioned that BlueKite "is optimized for HTML and does nothing to help with Lotus or Exchange."

Enterprises wanting to increase throughput for mobile workers using Sprint PCS to access Exchange or Lotus applications will have to tap into a Sprint PCS private network, which uses its compression scheme that requires installation of a corporate server, Gusman said. This would cost between $25,000 and $30,000 to support 300 to 600 users, Gusman added, describing this as a small expense in the overall cost of a corporatewide area network.

Dulaney, in a "first take" analysis for Gartner, described the new, high-speed Sprint PCS service as "not a giant leap of wireless technology over wire line.

It may however, be a giant leap in compression technology for all connections, something which still must be verified."

Ken Woo, a spokesman for Redmond, Wash.-based AT&T Wireless, said the company, whose data network offers a throughput of 19.2K bit/sec., has no plans to install compression technology "because you have to use forward error correction, which slows down the connection."

Woo added that AT&T Wireless has no plans to add compression schemes to its existing network and instead plans to focus its effort on rolling out a next-generation service that will provide users with 384K bit/sec., with projections for a nationwide launch in 2002.

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