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N+I: Sprint pushes new nationwide network, gets mixed reviews

Jim Rendon

ATLANTA -- Ron LeMay, president and CEO of Sprint Corp., addressed a half-empty room at the NetWorld+Interop conference Tuesday, pitching his company as one that can withstand the current economic downturn.

LeMay told the audience that Sprint, which offers local and long distance wire line services as well as wireless and data communications, can use this broad range of offerings to bring better communications services to enterprise customers.

"I would bet on companies like Sprint," he said.

LeMay pointed to Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint's recent launch of a nationwide next-generation wireless network as a cornerstone of its strategy for bringing increasingly useful applications to the wireless market. With this faster network, users can now have remote access to e-mail and attachments. They can send images back and forth, instant message each other and play games. But while this 1xRTT nationwide network does provide faster data rates of up to 70K bit/sec, it is hardly ubiquitous.

That poses a problem for potential customers such as Chris McCorkle, a senior business technology consultant with the Montgomery, Ala.-based Alfa Insurance. While Sprint's network may work well in Montgomery and Mobile, McCorkle said, many of the insurance company's adjusters work in the rural South, where there is little cell coverage, let alone the kind of high-speed wireless connectivity that LeMay is pitching.

Yet he said he could see the value in

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the services right away. "We'd love to wirelessly transmit damage pictures," McCorkle said. But for now, with Sprint, that kind of high bandwidth application could only work in urban areas. And McCorkle is reluctant to transfer field agents from their current system using the Blackberry, the wireless e-mail device produced by Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion, to a system that only works for some of the adjusters.

Greater appeal in urban areas

But for large enterprises in urban areas, Sprint may have more to offer than other wireless carriers, said Francis Rabuck, director of Rabuck Associates, an independent consulting firm based in Philadelphia. The multiple services Sprint offers can simplify billing and streamline the launch of new services. And though its network is a patchwork across the country, it is currently the most extensive of the next generation high-speed wireless networks available in the United States.

Sprint's vision of a constant wireless connection across multiple networks serving an array of consumer outlets is more hype than reality, Rabuck said. But for now the company does offer the enterprise some new options for basic wireless services.

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