The annual Sprint Open Solutions conference is primarily for software developers to learn about Sprint’s partnerships and to stimulate creation of applications that will run on (smart) devices which access the Sprint network. While previous conferences focused more on the network itself (as an enabler of mobile devices and apps), this year’s event provided a close up view into the latest tools and capabilities from Sprint and their solution-enablement partners.
Additional topics included: new go-to-market services for developers, 4G LTE network and device technologies, network optimization best-practices, and Sprint’s mobile commerce, cloud and M2M (machine to machine) communications strategies.
According to Sprint’s Kristin Wallace, “For this year’s Open Solution Conference, we decided to focus on four key areas — mobile advertising, mobile commerce, mobile security and cloud services.” The experts on Sprint’s next generation multi-frequency/muti-protocol wireless network (known as Network Vision) were not present, so that subject area was not discussed at the conference.
Author’s Note: A key point is that, unlike other wireless carriers, Sprint has to deal with four separate and disparate networks: the soon to be shut down Nextel IDEN push-to-talk, Sprint’s legacy CDMA/3G-EVDO, Network Vision (CDMA/3G-EVDO, LTE-FDD)+, and Cleawire’s Mobile WiMAX/ LTE-TDD). Looks like the last three of these networks will survive- at least for a couple of years.
I wonder how the transitioning, switch-over process and inter-networking will be, especially for users; but that’s the subject of an entire different article.
+ Deployment of Network Vision has begun in the U.S. It is a wireless network infrastructure that allows Sprint to run multiple network technologies/protocols and host multiple spectrum bands at the same set of base stations/cell sites. As it’s deployed, Sprint is installing LTE-FDD as well as upgrading its 3G/CDMA wireless network, while phasing out the narrowband iDEN network originally developed by Nextel. Sprint had said it expected the Network Vision deployment to reach 12,000 cell sites this year.
On its 3rd Quarter 2012 earnings call last Thursday, Sprint blamed its equipment vendors for a delay of about three months for its network upgrade plans, but said that it would not affect overall spending on the $7 billion Network Vision project. The company said the delay related to logistics, execution and materials but did not single out a specific vendor from its three main suppliers: Ericsson, Alcatel Lucent SA and Samsung Electronics Co. It’s not clear if the 2013 year end total coverage goals will be also delayed. Please see Dan Hesse’s Closing Keynote (below) for more on this topic.
Sprint’s Device Portfoliio, by David Owens, Sprint Vice President, Product Management & Logistics:
This session provided an overview of Sprint Device & Application Strategy for 2012-2013, including a look at some key industry Hardware and Software Trends in 2012 & 2013 and Sprint’s Network, Device, OS & Application Strategy going into 2013.
Sprint’s key area of focus for devices:
- Strong iconic brands that will operate across different software platforms ( iOS, Android, Windows 8 and RIM).
- Broad base of LTE end user products, including tablets, smart phones, M2M/Internet of Things (IoT).
- Pre-paid and postpaid data plans available for most mobile devices.
- Improved international offerings (assume that means making 3G/CDMA end devices operate on networks outside the U.S.)
- Broader lineup of Sprint Direct Connect products (with Nextell IDEN network being shut off in 2013, the new Sprint network, i.e. Network Vision, will assume Push to Talk and similar functions).
- Support for 3 Sprint LTE frequency bands (25=1900MHz, 26=800MHz, and 41=2.5GHz) in a single handset (“wildly complex” in terms of number of radios and antenna components on a handheld device circuit board). Again, this capability will be delivered by Network Vision.
- Ability to leverage products across prepaid and postpaid (single SKU concept- unique identifier for each type of service).
Outstanding Questions for 2013:
- How big will the iOS tablet/handset market be (this point wasn’t qualified so one wonders if it was referring to Apple hardware shipment or 3rd party apps developed for that hardware)?
- What will Google do with Motorola Mobility and will it be meaningful?
- What will BB10 OS mean to RIM? Don’t count RIM out just yet!
- Will any other viable software platforms emerge in 2013? For example, Windows 8 or HTML5 (instead of native apps with embedded browsers)? [Sidebar: speaker chided AT&T for supporting Windows Phone on mobile devices before that OS was solid. He said Windows 8 would provide a much better experience for mobile device users.]
Sprint CEO Dan Hesse’s Closing Keynote:
This 30 minute talk seemed to be much more like a pitch to institutional investors rather than developers. We will skip Mr. Hesse’s defense of why Sprint lost subscribers, importance of Softbank’s investment, latest ARPU and churn numbers, etc. Instead we’ll report key reasons that developers might want to partner with Sprint. In that regard, Mr. Hesse stated:
- Sprint has emerged as a much stronger network operator with the $20.1B Softbank investment (for 70% of the company).
- Sprint is the fastest growing contract brand, in terms of net new customers, in the last two years.
- Sprint network platform now has a record 52.9M total customers (it is unclear if that number includes Sprint WiMAX customers which access Clearwire’s network that’s resold by Sprint as a MVNO).
- Sprint is recapturing Nextel customers -59% have converted to the Sprint network platform in the 3rd quarter 2012.
- Customers want LTE. Network Vision targets for end of 2012 will be delayed three months (as noted above).
- Nationwide LTE coverage (via Network Vision) will be achieved by end of 2013. (Note there was no mention of whether Sprint will resell Clearwire’s LTE-TDD now being developed for global deployments).
Why partner with Sprint?
- We’re doing the right thing! Innovation (450 patents granted in 2011), easy to do business with, increased level of public trust (due to Sprint’s technologies that provide security, privacy and safety), Wireless accessibility packs for blind or visually impaired, sustainability and ecology aware (#3 greenest U.S. company and only telco in the top 25).
- Network Vision platform will include Push to X capability (presumably Push to Talk and similar instant connect features- video chat?)
- Sprint is the only cellular operator offering unlimited 3G/4G data plans
- Open platforms supported and no walled garden to control or exclude software vendors
- Opportunity Funnel to help start-up companies with business plans and synergies with Sprint
- Collaboration Center in Burlingame, CA for vendors with hardware and/or software they want to run on Sprint’s network. Examples include M2M communications, video applications, and mobile health.
Summing up, Mr. Hesse noted that Sprint now ranks very high in customer satisfaction. They’ve gone from last place to first place despite all their publicized financial difficulties and bad decisions (especially acquiring Nextel).
Author’s Experience with Sprint:
Of the three largest U.S. telcos, Sprint has been by far the easiest for IEEE Communications Society (ComSoc) to work with. ComSoc has had a very productive relationship and dialog with Sprint since at least 2006. The IEEE ComSoc-Sprint bond was aided and abetted by Sprint’s M2M Solutions Manager Mike Finegan, who has been a long time friend and colleague of IEEE ComSoc. Mr Finegan has spoken three times at IEEE ComSoc organized workshops, seminars, and technical meetings. Our members thoroughly enjoyed the informative and impressive seminar and tour to their Collaborations Center in March 2011. All the presentation materials from those events can be downloaded for free from the archive section of our website:
http://www.ewh.ieee.org/r6/scv/comsoc/ComSoc_2011_Presentations.php (scroll down to March 7, 2011 for seminars at Sprint Collaboration Center)
This author looks forward to further collaboration with Sprint, particularly in understanding the capabilities, features and functions of Network Vision. A whole new set of applications could be made possible by that new network infrastructure, including mobile cloud, low latency real time video, and medical imaging. Look for further updates.