Highlights of 2012 Sprint Open Solutions Conference, October 24-26, 2012 in San Jose, CA

Overview:

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)

http://www.ewh.ieee.org/r6/scv/comsoc/09242011_MikeFinegan.pdf

http://www.ewh.ieee.org/r6/scv/comsoc/Workshop_092510_SprintM2M.pdf

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.

 

2 thoughts on “Highlights of 2012 Sprint Open Solutions Conference, October 24-26, 2012 in San Jose, CA

  1. Did Softbank buy 70% of Sprint to get Clearwire’s spectrum and technology? One writer thinks so & she has lots of evidence to back her opinion:

    Softbank’s Brilliant Buy One (Sprint), Get One Free Deal (Clearwire)
    http://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx.shtml

    “This whole deal is about Clearwire and its V A S T spectrum position. That’s the pot of gold and it comes with this deal almost for free, at least so far.”

    “Sprint’s much abused stepchild Clearwire is spectrum rich beyond the grandest dreams of any other U.S. carrier. It has 160 Mhz of spectrum in some markets and an average of 120 Mhz in the big urban markets where it really matters because that is where the traffic is that causes bottlenecks and poor service. The knock on 2.5Ghz is that it doesn’t penetrate walls very well. One 800 Mhz cell site can propagate a signal across an extensive geographic area. But when conveying video and data streams in urban locales, what matters most is little interference and cross talk. Higher frequency spectrum is the winner in this battle when combined with lots of pico and nano cell sites. Clearwire can program as many as eight 20Mhz wide channels in an urban center. To be even more spectrally efficient, it doesn’t have to offer 10 Mhz in each direction. Sprint is working hard to reclaim from its Nextel system bandwidth that will facilitate one 5×5 channel that can only be used as 5×5. There is simply no comparison in capacity.”

    “Softbank and its Vodaphone operation is already operating very efficiently in the 2.5 Ghz spectrum at speeds not yet seen in the United States on any extant 4G network. It is likely that the newly announced delays in the build of the Sprint and now also the Clearwire networks are the result of Son’s intervention. He wants a system at least as fast as what he has deployed in Japan. That is probably requiring a redesign of the equipment choices made for Sprint’s Network Vision to which Clearwire must interface seamlessly. Clearwire said on its call there is no point spending money to match a build by Sprint that is behind schedule (and we would add, might change). Their contract with Sprint calls for 2000 sites to be up and running by June 2012. CLWR has already built 800. So now they have 8 months to complete the other 1200 sites in time to collect their next progress payments from the no longer cash strapped Sprint. We might look for a change in that contract going forward.

    As for burning cash between now and next June, there is little else for which Clearwire has to spend money. It should also reduce its desire or need to sell off spectrum when that is the real prize. Sooner but maybe later, Sprint will absorb Clearwire. The principal benefit is that it would help Clearwire reset its debt with lower interest rates and remove it from junk status bumping up against its credit limits. A debt guarantee would also accomplish that. Craig McCaw sold his shares last week at an average price of $2.97. But Wells Fargo’s Jennifer Fritzsche points out that he participates in any upside if they rest of the shares are bought in at a higher price later on. I’m sure other shareholders would love that same deal right now. if the Clearwire Board is to earn its keep, it must make sure that the Clearwire shareholders are properly represented and receive fair value for their assets. Otherwise, expect a lot of law suits to be filed in the weeks ahead.”

    Joan E. Lappin CFA Gramercy Capital Mgt. Corp.

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